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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Not Ready to Feel It All Yet
K.B.
headshot

Names have been changed.

My mom is a single parent, raising three boys—I’m 16, Calvin is 13, and Bryant is 8. Until we went into care recently, I did not think much about how my mom was taking care of us by herself. My parents split up when I was 4, and I don’t see my dad unless I run into him in the neighborhood.

One day a couple of years ago, I saw my mom on the phone with her friend Darlene, tears streaming from her eyes. She said, “The father is not involved in their lives.” I hated when my mom told other people family business, but I also had a strong feeling that my mom was experiencing some mental pain. I wondered why she was crying.

Soon after that, on a Sunday night, my brothers and I were getting ready for school the next day. It was pitch-black outside; I could barely see traces of the moon.

“I am not feeling well,” my mom said to me. “I need to go to the hospital.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Kelvin, Mom is sick,” she told me.

I was shocked. I worried what would happen if she were admitted to the hospital. “What’s the plan?”

“Put on your clothes and get your brothers ready,” she answered. “We are going to the hospital. We shall see from there.”

Mom’s in the Hospital

We took the express bus and arrived at the hospital around a quarter to 10. It looked ugly. The walls were stark white. I didn’t like being confined in a closed area with so many people.
I sat in the waiting room with my brothers; we were the only children. The doctor escorted my mom away and silence filled the air. When they returned, the doctor said, “Your mom will be staying here tonight.”

Mom whispered as she walked away with the doctor, “Take care of your brothers.”

“Mom, I love you. See you soon,” I replied.

We were taken to the pediatric center. I felt sorrow for my mom and brothers and worried that we would get separated. I was afraid that my brothers would struggle. I was 14 then, so I didn’t worry about myself as much.

I had sensed that my mom was struggling, mentally, but it was shocking that it was bad enough for her to be in the hospital. I thought about how she would vent over the phone and to friends on social media and how her emotions sometimes seemed too much for her to handle.

I had trouble relating to that because I try to live a stress–free lifestyle. I feel sadness, but it doesn’t last. I try to fill my brain with new stories, mostly about sports. I keep my personal life separate from my interactions with my community. This allows me to be happy and suffer less stress.

But I guess it was harder for my mom to control her emotions. Maybe those emotions were interfering with her ability to raise us. I’m still not sure what exactly was wrong with her. It occurred to me that being a single parent might be harder than growing a tree from scratch.

‘When Do We Go Home?’

At the pediatric center, there was a nice nurse, who ordered us some food. My mom couldn’t find anyone to take us home, so the doctor called Child Protective Services (CPS) because we couldn’t remain in the hospital. The three of us fell asleep on a hospital bed.

Roughly six hours later, a short, middle-aged woman arrived and woke us up. She drove us away from the hospital in a dark Toyota Prius. I was tired, but I tried to enjoy the view of the Hudson River. As we arrived at a place I had never seen before, the CPS Children’s Center, there were hints of the sun rising behind the dark night sky. I walked into the building, and then was escorted into a separate room. A CPS officer asked me to remove all metal objects, and take off my winter coat, and I was patted down. What could I have? My brothers didn’t have to go through the metal detector or get searched.

The three of us were escorted to a lobby with toys and a TV. Bryant played with the toys, and Calvin tried to buy a snack from the vending machine. I watched the early edition of NBC News.

An older lady took me to the second floor where a nurse checked my health, and then I was taken to my room. The bed was metal and hard, but I instantly fell asleep. I made the mistake of not putting on my covers. I woke at about 9 a.m. with ice-cold feet.

At breakfast, Bryant asked me, “When are we going home?”

“Good question,” I replied.

Calvin said, “I think our aunt is coming for us soon.”

“I don’t know about that,” I said. “We may be here for a week or so.” My brothers were shocked and sad. Bryant was being rude to staff; I think he was struggling to control his emotions. Calvin kept on saying, “Mom said family is coming.” I was annoyed. I didn’t want to discourage his hope, but I knew our extended family members had their own kids and problems to deal with. We stayed in the CPS building and went to school from there.

Staying Calm for My Brothers

image by YC-Art Dept

On the sixth day, the CPS staff told us to pack our clothing. They drove us to East Flatbush, Brooklyn, in a dark van. We walked into a long, narrow apartment and met the Martins, who were introduced as “your temporary foster parents.”

The Martins were in their early 50s and had thick Jamaican accents that were hard to understand. I could tell they were nice people.

“Welcome to your new home,” said Ms. Martin. After we all introduced each other, she said, “Guys, make use of all the resources here.”

I told them I was tired and lay down on the couch. I was grateful for a warm home. They showed us the rest of the apartment: a bathroom, small kitchen, living room, and two bedrooms. We three walked into our new room and they left us there.
Calvin said, “Bunk beds like the ones at home.”

I wondered, “Where is the dresser? Where are the desks for homework?”

Calvin said, “This horrible Magnavox TV! Where is the cable?”

There was one little square folding table—easily breakable. I was frustrated that there was no desk and that I’d have to sit on a folding chair to do my homework. But I decided to make the best of it.

Focusing on School

I did not ask my mom or my social worker why I was placed in foster care, and nobody told me. I figured it wouldn’t be for very long, whatever the reason. I decided not to worry about my mom and to assume that she would be fine. My main objective was to avoid stress during a time of shifting homes. I looked in the mirror and saw a bright lane to follow. I wanted to be a role model for my brothers.

School has always been a place of tranquility for me, calmer than home. I understood what I needed to do there.

Before foster care, I was a lazy student. I’d complete all my homework, class work, and projects, but didn’t study as much as I should have. I got C’s on my tests. But while in care, during my sophomore year, I decided to maximize my full potential as a student in a great school. I realized that studying 15 more minutes a day would increase my overall understanding while boosting my grade. I began studying harder, and my grades went up in some classes. My overall average increased by 5 percent sophomore year.

That summer, I worked as a youth counselor, coaching children in basketball at an organization called Urban Dove. My mom showed up at Urban Dove in July. I was shocked to see her there. She took my brothers and me to the CPS building to get medically cleared to return home.

Back With Mom

In August, the court ordered the state to return custody to my mom. This came as a surprise, because I never attended any court hearings or family meetings. We lived with the Martins for five months.

I have been back at home for about five months. I have a solid relationship with my mom. I missed her, and now I appreciate her presence more. She told me that it was hard to get us back after she got out of the hospital. The caseworker accused her of neglecting us, and that’s why it took five months to get us back. I haven’t talked about my time in care with my mom.

The experience taught me a lot. Sometimes, you have emergencies, and family may not be able to help. On the other hand, foster families do step in, and they can fill in.

While I was in care, some people advised me to talk about my feelings, but sometimes I didn’t want to talk about personal things. I was sent to therapy, but that didn’t help; I just played card games with the therapist. So instead I’d talk about things unrelated to my personal life.

Other times, I did want to talk about my foster care experience, but I didn’t know how much to tell. I didn’t want to misrepresent foster care, and I feared the reaction of my friends. I didn’t want them to feel sorry for me or think it was worse than it was.

Sadness Became Motivation

While in care I realized I was under stress, which I experienced as mental fatigue from too many thoughts about my brothers’ and my situation. I started subscribing to a magazine called Psychology Today hoping it would help me understand and cope with my feelings. I read an article that suggested writing down strong feelings so you don’t release your anger in a way that’s destructive. So I sat down to write anything that came into my mind.

But all that came out on the page were sports scores and statistics. When I did write about myself, I only wrote about happy things that had happened at school. I never wrote about my mom or her illness or foster care in my journal. Instead I focused on what I could control. Articles in Psychology Today and my psychology class say that you must express feelings, but I resisted because I hate feeling bad.

When my brothers and I went into care, it was scary and sad, but I didn’t want to feel those things. So I used that sadness as motivation to help my brothers and myself. That was my resilience—to focus on my brothers instead of my own fear and sorrow. I lived in a quiet environment, and I played basketball to rejuvenate my soul. I became very calm instead of frustrated and depressed.

Adjusting to a different home without my mom was a challenge. However, I respected that my foster parents allowed me into their home, and I built a good relationship with them. I discovered that I could handle rough situations. I have great respect for foster parents, despite the stories of horror. I understand that everyone’s experience is different, and mine was good. I am grateful to the Martins for taking us in.

Choosing When to Open Up

I know you’re supposed to let painful emotions out, but I’m glad I succeeded at suppressing my feelings while I was in care. I feared being labeled an emotionally troubled youth and put on medication or placed in a group home, and I kept that from happening. It worked for me. I’ve never liked complaining about my life when others have it so much worse.

After I got out of care, I told a few friends that I had been in a foster home. They already knew I’d been living in a different location for five months, but we’d brushed over the details. They were sympathetic and told me I’d be OK and that they had my back. It felt good to let out what I’d been holding in and talk to my friends about something besides sports and the sneakers and clothes we wanted. It felt good to get their support.

Maybe someday I will vent more of my feelings, but for now I’m proud that I was able to persevere through pain and focus on something I could control—bringing my grades up. I became a stronger, more independent person. The hardest lesson was also the most liberating—the only person you can
control is yourself.

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(FCYU-2018-04-18)

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