The youth-written stories in Represent give inspiration and information to teens in foster care while offering staff insight into those teens’ struggles.

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The Best Mom I Can Be
Hollie Williams

Some names have been changed.

I went into labor late on August 14, 2011. My foster mom, Mrs. Peace, my foster sisters Anita and Shanika, and a midwife were in the hospital to help me. About three hours later, on August 15, at 2:40 a.m., I gave birth to Jewelz Thomas. I was so excited to finally meet my son, whom I carried for 40 long weeks. I loved him from the moment I held him, looked into his eyes, and started to breast feed.

As I looked at my son, I thought about my mother. She died a little more than a year before Jewelz was born, from cirrhosis of the liver. The last time I saw her was Mother’s Day, 2010. Her death was a devastating blow I cope with every day. But I’m striving to give my son the stability she couldn’t give us.

Her alcoholism affected our family long before she died. She would run the streets at night and drink out in the cold; as a child, I’d try to get her back into the house. She couldn’t hold a job or manage her finances. She would get evicted, and my four siblings and I spent some of our childhood in shelters. Still, she always praised us and told us she loved us. I miss her to this day.

On, January 2, 2001, all five kids were taken away from our mother. I was 9, my sister Leticia was 14, Emma was 11, Shanda was 6, and my little brother Noah was 4. We waited in a Children’s Protective Services building in Manhattan until 11 p.m., when Shanda, Leticia and I were taken to the home of Ms. Elizabeth Ellison. Emma and Noah were placed in another home: Five was too many to keep together.

I stayed with Elizabeth for three years. It was hard for me to be away from my mother. She would call three to four times a week, and when the call ended, I felt sorrow. I worried about my mother all the time.

After several weeks, my older sister Leticia began running away, and Elizabeth decided she couldn’t keep her. I was only 9. I was afraid that something would happen to Leticia. I was afraid that I was losing my family to foster care. My heart ached as I wondered if we would ever reunite again as a whole.

Unconditional Love

My mother wanted us back, but had to prove to the court that she was able to care for us. Unfortunately, she was one minute sober and the next minute relapsing.

By the time I was 13, I’d been in three foster homes. I began running away from that third home, the home of Ms. Mabel Welch, who I called mom. Ms. Welch offered to adopt my little sister Shanda and me, even though my mom’s parental rights had not been terminated yet. I liked her, but I was not ready to be adopted and completely move on. It was hard to make that decision because I wanted guidance and someone who could raise me as a daughter. But adoption felt like giving up on my mom. It made me feel good to give unconditional love to my mother throughout her alcohol addiction.

I was moved again, and kept running away to see my mom. I was the queen of AWOL. Looking back, I see that what I hurt most was my education. When I was in school, I was a great student. My consistent absences, however, made me fail classes. When I returned from AWOLing, I had so much to make up. Trying to catch up on all I missed stressed me out. I started to have panic attacks.

I was also trying to cope with my emotions toward my mother, and I was angry because I wanted to be home already. The court terminated my mother’s parental rights seven years after we went into care, but I couldn’t accept that I’d never live with her again. I expressed my unhappiness about being in foster care by consistently running away. I guess running away was a behavior addiction caused by the instability of my life.

Preparing to Parent

I did not stop running away until I got pregnant. And even when I was pregnant I explored the option of signing out of foster care. My baby father, Mikel, and I wanted to be a team in parenting. He came to prenatal care appointments and teen Lamaze birthing classes with me. He was the one I chose as my support system for labor and delivery. He came with me to family court and agency meetings.

We decided that it was best for me to leave foster care and for the three of us to live in a family shelter together. Mikel, who was about to turn 21, was living with his aunt in Harlem, and the three of us wouldn’t be able to live there. Neither of us had jobs, so we couldn’t get public housing.

My foster parents at the time, Mr. and Mrs. Peace, my social worker, and my friends all told me I should stay in foster care as a parenting youth. In care, I could get an apartment; college financial aid and Education Training Voucher (ETV) money for trade school or college; $1,800 subsidy; and a one-shot discharge grant for furniture and apartment necessities. Foster children who have babies are entitled to a small clothing allowance and help buying a crib, highchair, stroller, playpen, diapers, and more. The baby is insured by the foster youth’s Medicaid.

I understood where they were coming from, but I was worried about remaining in the system. I was afraid that caseworkers, supervisors, or directors might try to build a case against me and put my child in foster care. Mikel agreed with me.

I prepared to sign out of foster care before the baby was born. Mikel and I planned to pay for a domestic partnership, a legal document saying we are a serious couple. (He and I were not ready to be married at that point.) From the shelter, we planned to combine our food stamps and other finances and obtain an apartment together.

Everything was ready for the final meeting where I’d be released from foster care. And then, on July 10, a month before my due date, Mikel was arrested for stealing. He said he was falsely accused of someone else’s crime, and I believe him. The district attorney was trying to put him in jail for 8 to 15 years. The judge offered him a plea of 5 years, and Mikel took it. He is scheduled to be released 2½ years from now.

I was devastated. Suddenly instead of a family, I would be an 18-year-old single mother. This changed the whole scenario.

image by YC-Art Dept

I decided to stay in foster care. My caseworkers and my foster parents were happy. Recently, Jewelz and I moved from the Peaces’ to the Moores’ house, where we have our own room instead of sharing with other foster kids.

In 10 months, I will age out, and I am grateful I stayed in care. I’m getting a lot of important help to prepare me to live on my own by my youth development workers.

A Good Mother

I love my mother and I miss her a lot. I wish I could hug her again. I cope by reminding myself my mother wanted me to be happy.

I love my son as much as my mother loved me, but I’m going to do better than she did for me. I am not going to let my son be placed in care. I’ll do this by not creating an alcohol addiction for myself, by maintaining a stable home, and by furthering my education to decrease the possibilities of poverty or evictions.

I drink on special occasions, and it gives me that buzz of feeling great. But I know not to go past my limits. When I do feel heartache, I don’t turn to alcohol to ease the pain. I won’t do that to myself or my son.

Instead of drinking, I go to therapy to heal from my pain, get it out in the open, and cry. Therapy has helped me deal with the challenges of foster care, my mother’s death, and the stresses of motherhood. Therapy helped me reset my mind to accept the fact that I was going to be a single mother after Mikel’s incarceration. I had prepared for us being a team, and that was a big adjustment.

My mom dropped out of college and received public assistance. Preparing to age out of foster care with a baby made me step back from my plan to get a bachelor’s degree. I need financial security for my son soon. The educational specialist at my foster care agency went over different trades that would let me support my baby without years of training.

Starting My Career

I enrolled in a one-year training program to become a home health aide or do other medical or administrative work. Caring for my mom through her relapses showed me I had the heart to be a medical assistant.

I’m happy about where I stand. ETV and financial aid covers all my tuition, and I will get my medical assistant degree about a month before my 21st birthday. Then I get an unpaid externship, and if I do well, I could be hired by that employer. I’ll be able to support my son and myself while doing a job I actually enjoy. I am close to getting an apartment, too. I’m exploring other benefits I have access to, such as food stamps, until I am financially stable.

I attend parenting classes once a week. They teach basics such as setting limits, maintaining healthy self-esteem, and the difference between discipline and abuse. The parenting classes taught us how an infant is like an alien on the planet, helpless and with excessive sensitivity. Infants cling to us to love, cherish, care for them, and meet their needs. They need lots of love to reassure them that mommy or daddy is here. They learn trust and dependability from us.

We learned in class that you cannot spoil a baby. Holding and pampering a baby and comforting him when he cries is not spoiling him: He needs this comfort to learn to feel safe and secure. We need to be consistent too. Mikel should be released in a few years, so I hope we will be a family of mommy, daddy, and son.

I lived about 12 years of my childhood away from my biological mother due to her alcoholism, and I worried about her constantly. I have siblings I’ve never met, and when my mother died I lost the hope that I would ever know them. My mother meant well, but that doesn’t take away the pain of feeling neglected.

Staying Strong for Jewelz

I had to put that pain behind me when I had Jewelz. I have to stay strong: If I let myself be dragged down by sadness about my childhood neglect and my mother’s death, then who will I be for Jewelz?

Having a baby stopped me from running away from everything. I am grateful for my son because my motivation increased. My focus on him replaced feeling bad about my mother’s death. His life meant, “Your mom’s not here, but I am! So, are you going to neglect us or care for us?”

Jewelz is my little angel. He’s an active 20-month-old who’s exploring the world. He’s sweet, helpful, bright, energized, messy, stubborn, spoiled, and handsome. He loves taking a bath but hates when I rinse the shampoo out. He does not like the word no. He picks up words very quickly, and he likes to sing with the other kids in the day care.

A few weeks ago, I took Jewelz to the hospital because he was wheezing; it turned out he had bronchitis. Before he got his chest X-ray, around midnight, he sang “I Love You,” from the TV show Barney. It touched my spirit to see his sweet heart and his courage.

I was a child with an adult soul because I felt the need to take care of my mother, to worry about her, to not let her walk alone. My child will not have to worry about my addiction or us becoming homeless. My son’s job is to be a kid, and Mommy takes care of the rest.

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