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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A Foster Mom Becomes Family

Names have been changed.

It is not easy for me to know what a good family is and where I should stay. When I was 15, I ran away from home because my parents beat me. I went to live with a family friend, but I didn’t get much love and attention there either. The woman cooked for me only once a week. She came to my school three times in the three years I lived with her. She didn’t show me love or even talk to or listen to me.

Then she got sick with diabetes, and I couldn’t live with her anymore. Instead of telling me, she had two caseworkers come to my school to take me to the intake building of Child Protective Services (CPS).

I stayed at the CPS building for a week until I was placed with my first foster mother. Her name was Michele; she was 35 and had a son named Jonathan. I was scared when I went into her home because she lived in a bad neighborhood in the South Bronx, and I didn’t know her at all.

I didn’t think foster care would be good, but Michele’s home was worse than I expected. When I got there, she said, “Your room is on the left and there’s food in the kitchen.” Then she turned around and went in her room.

She never gave me keys to her house. The first week I was there, I got home from school at 3 p.m. and had to stay outside in the cold until 7, when Michele got off work. This happened twice a week. She never gave me money to get food after school. I wondered how a “parent” could leave her child out in front of a building hungry. She never spent time with me: I thought she didn’t like me.

I complained to my social worker, and five months after I got to Michele’s, I was moved into Lora’s care and I still live there now. Lora’s 21-year-old biological son, Devin, and another foster son, one year younger than me, also live there. I don’t have my own room, but my foster brother Jay and I respect each other’s space. I can eat whenever I’m hungry, and Lora gives me the allowance CPS provides on time, every two weeks.

I got comfortable there quickly. Lora took us to the movies, and every Friday, we played Uno or Taboo, Jay and I against Lora and Devin. My biological family never did things like this—if they did, it would probably turn into a big fight.

Family Rituals

Another thing we did that made us feel like a family was eat together at least once a week. On four different occasions, Lora had everyone at the table say one thing we liked about being together. On the last time, Lora once said that I was going big places because I’m motivated. I told her that she was the best parent I ever had.

Lora told me she loved me, and treated me better then my biological parents and my first foster mother did. She gave me an allowance beyond what CPS required. She came to my school, and she listened to what I had to say even if it made no sense. She doesn’t call herself a “foster parent” or call us “foster kids”; we’re just her kids.

Lora helped me do better in school. Knowing that someone wants to see me make it in the future makes me feel more confident about my abilities. In addition, she helped me with homework. I went from being a C student to a B+ student within the first two months of living with Lora.

Having someone who loves me helped me open up to my friends. For example, one day my friend was complaining that his family does him wrong. I said, “Bro, I understand. I’m in foster care.”

He asked why I didn’t say anything earlier, and I said I was embarrassed. Living with Lora made me less embarrassed because she actually cared for me and treated me as her own. It was easier to tell people about having a foster mother who cared about me.

However, five months after I moved in, Lora changed. She started disappearing for long periods, and when she was home, she stayed in her room with the door closed. We stopped having family game night. I wondered why things had changed and if it would ever go back to the way it had been.

Then, in January, her sister came over and asked my foster brother Jay and me, “Do you realize how much this lady cares for you and does for you? She’s sick.” She told us that Lora had lung cancer. She did not get into detail about her treatment or how sick she was, but she said, “You don’t know how long she’s gonna be here for.”

When I heard this, I wanted to cry. However, my father used to hit me when I cried, so I hold it in. I started to worry and feel guilty. If I had known Lora was sick, I would have done less to stress her out. I am a teen, so I was going out to party—with her permission, but she worried if I was even 10 minutes late. Even though I never got in trouble at school or on the street, she said, “Anything can happen.”

Burden or Help?

I started to worry that I might be making her worse. Besides being late sometimes, I also have a heart murmur. I do not always take my medicine because it doesn’t seem to do anything, which stresses her out. She has to take me to the doctor a lot.

I was not the only pressure on her. Her mother died two years ago and her father was sick, and she was in and out the hospital because of her surgeries. Lora did not have her siblings, aunts, or uncle there for her at all.

I realized I had to look out for my caretaker. I got a summer job and helped pay the cable bill. Sometimes I work at a mechanic’s shop off the books, and I give that money to Lora, too. Now I come home on time, and I take the heart murmur shot once a month so she doesn’t have to worry.

However, I still felt like more of a burden than a help, and I didn’t like worrying about her either. I debated whether to ask my agency to move me to another foster home. I loved her, but as a foster kid, I knew not to be too attached, and my instinct was to move away from stress.

I did not know what to do. Would Lora be better off with me gone? Or did I help her more than I stressed her out? I clean the house, and take her on errands. In addition, part of me thinks Lora keeps pushing because of Jay and me. She inherited money from her mother a few years ago, so I know she’s not keeping us just for the money. She has said that kids make her happy.

image by YC-Art Dept

For my own sake, I was scared to switch foster homes because I have friends who have lived in bad foster homes and been moved around multiple times. There are some problems with Lora, but I know she’s a good foster mom. And I did not want to start over for a third time.

‘You Got Lucky!’

Recently, my family situation got even more confusing: I found out my girlfriend is pregnant. I am going to be a father at the age of 18, and I did not know how to tell Lora.

A few weeks after I got the news about the pregnancy, I called Lora from the mall where I was hanging with my friends. I asked if she was home, and she said, “No, I’m at the hospital.”

I said, “For who?” thinking she might be visiting a relative or taking a friend.

“For myself.”

“What for?”

She told me to leave it alone. I offered to meet her at whatever hospital she was at in 30 minutes. She said, “Stay a child and stop worrying.”

Soon after that, she admitted to me that she had been undergoing chemotherapy for almost six months and she had just stopped. Now she has to wait two years to see if the cancer comes back. Hearing how sick she was and that the disease can come back made me even more worried to tell her about my baby.

I once heard her telling her son she wanted a grandchild, so I asked, “Lora, why do you want a grandchild?”

She responded, “I’m not getting younger. I want to see a second generation before I go.”

I said, “You got lucky! I’m having a child.”

She laughed. She thought I was playing, until I showed her paperwork from the doctor about my girlfriend’s pregnancy. When it sank in, Lora looked both happy and worried. She said, “Are you ready to be a father?”

“Yeah. I’m nervous, but I got my life together.” I am scared to be having a child at 18 and to raise my child in a city where there are many problems. I am scared for my child to grow up around gangs since I was in one when I was younger.

Summer and Storms

However, I will finish high school in March. I work now and will continue until I start college in September. Foster care will pay for my college, and my girlfriend is already in college and has a scholarship. We both work and save our money, and I will stay in care until I turn 21. Therefore, I believe we will be able to support our child.

Lora said, “So I’m gonna be a grandmother for sure?”

I told her I didn’t believe in abortion. Lora agreed with me. As a foster kid, I do not believe in adoption either, because I think a child should be around his or her family if possible.

Lora said, “So you gonna be saving up for this child? I will help, too, but it’s your job.”

Lora’s kind offer of help changed my feelings about leaving her home. For one thing, Lora is on her way to health. She comes out of her room more often now, to spend time with Jay and me. It feels like a real family again.

It meant a lot to hear Lora say she was going to be the grandmother to my child. Now I feel committed to Lora being my family and in my child’s life. I’m grateful that she wants to help me and my girlfriend be parents. I think she will be a good influence on my son or daughter, unlike my biological family.

I have a better sense now of how family can understand and come through for one another in summer and storms. I’m happy Lora is family for me and for my future child.

Use This Story to Help Heal

See this lesson for an activity using this story. It helps youth explore what makes people feel like family.

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