My Lost Decade

Reflections on Ten Years in Foster Care and my life since.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Seeking closure with old ghosts

I have mixed feelings about my experiences in foster care. Sometimes I am able to conquer my negative feelings in order to appreciate the positives that being raised in the system brought to my life and sometimes the memories of injustices left unfixed and pain left unhealed is too much to push aside.

I wonder sometimes if I will ever be able to forgive the foster parents who abused or neglected my foster siblings and I. The things they did sometimes got told to case workers and therapists and sometimes we were too afraid to say anything until it was too late to address the issue.

The thing is, when you are unable to ever talk about this stuff, it is harder to forgive, harder to forget and harder to move past. I still have dreams where I am stuck in those old situations. I still get angry sometimes when I think about the things the foster parents in those homes cheated me out of like normal childhood and teenage milestones, a sense of personal dignity and the ability to trust other people.

The people who I know have suffered as a result of the things I learned at those homes include my foster siblings in those homes, the foster parents who helped me age out, the men whom I dated (including my husband) and myself. There may have been others in my own life or the lives of my foster siblings as well. I feel like those foster parents owe apologies to all of the people named above, but I never want to speak to them again, so I cannot get those apologies from them.

I sometimes write letters to those foster parents, to get what I feel out of my system. I never mail the letters, but it helps me to let things go for a little while. It never lasts forever though and sooner or later I am feeling those same feelings and having those same nightmares again. I wish I could find a way to permanently get past it forgive, forget and let go. Then, the ghosts of the past will have no power over my future.

Sunday, January 08, 2006


Last week I spoke to a group of teens who are in foster care about the opportunities that have been given to me to speak out about the system, to attend college and to do other things that I never would have dreamed of doing when I was in care. It was a very exciting thing for me to get to do, as I am a firm believer in the power to improve the world by empowering future generations of leaders. I made it a point of telling them how much like them I was at their age and how all of the opportunities I was given are things that they too can get. This particular group is forming a speaker's bureau so that people can learn more about the foster care system from the people most knowledgable and most affected by it, the kids. I want them to know that they can achieve that goal and so much more.

One other thing that came out of me talking to this group is that one of my best friends, who has been an excellent public speaker since high school and has only gotten better since, came along to meet the group. She decided to help them with their public speaking preparations and other related things. This friend was never in foster care, but she is one of the most compassionate people that I have ever met. As soon as I started talking to her about my non-profit, this speaker's bureau and the like, she was ready and willing to help out. I cannot say what an immense asset she will be to this group, with her knowledge, passionate speaking, empathetic nature...and, oh yeah...she is a certified sign language interpreter, so now they can reach deaf audiences as well. I am so happy that she is doing this, it makes me want to cry.

This friend of mine is truly an amazing woman. She has popped up in a couple of my other posts. She is 23, but her younger brother is only 9 and she is the one listed to care for him if anything ever happens to her mom, which she has taken very much to heart. Should she ever be called upon to fulfill this duty (God forbid, cause her mom is awesome and I want her around forever) she wants to do it to her fullest capabilities and so she has been planning her financial assets around that. In addition, she is in charge of her company's charitable donations and she really gets into that. Her company sponsors a family year-round and my friend is in charge of getting them what they need. Also, she is a girlscout leader, a volleyball coach and an awesome friend. I count myself really lucky to have her in my life.

Other than the speaker's bureau...what does this have to do with foster care? Someday, she wants to be a foster mom! Won't that be amazing?! She is exactly the kind of person I would have loved to have had for a foster mom when I was a kid. I cannot wait until the time comes when she is ready to do that. She will be great.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

How do you define family?

To anyone reading this, Happy New Year! I think it is going to be an interesting one. I am starting 2006 with a lot already going on.

For starters, I am doing my first foster care related work on Tuesday, when I talk to a group of teens in care who are part of a speaker's bureau. Their facilitator asked me about six weeks ago if I would come talk to them some time and then I got an e-mail from her the other day and some time became Tuesday. I am going to talk to them about speaking out, including how opportunities present themselves, knowing your audience and tips to sounding prepared. I am really excited about talking to this group. As corny as it may sound, I believe that children are our future and an investment in someone younger than me who has aspirations is the best way to use my time.

Also, my best friend is expecting her first baby around my first wedding anniversary. I am SO excited. I called dibs on the shower as soon as I heard and have already been working on it. I feel as though this baby will be like a little niece or nephew to me. It never occurred to me that perhaps my friend did not view this exactly as I do.

We were talking on the phone recently when she commented that she and her husband have decided that they need to make a will, now that they are expecting, and decide who they would want to care for their child, (God forbid) should anything ever happen to them. She has a brother and so does he. They would seem like the first logical choices, but neither of them are presently in a situation to care for children. The next step in her mind and mine was to think about the grandparents, but that also did not yield an acceptable answer. To me, the next step after that was each of their closest friends and family who they are really close to. This was where my friend and I disagreed and what led me to the title of this post. She told me, "We would want to keep the baby in the family." I will not lie, this stung, since she has no sisters and has always called me her sister, but I tried to understand her point of view. My friend defines family as the people related to you biologically. She was raised in a traditional nuclear family with a mom, a dad, two kids, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins and this is what she pictures when she thinks of the word family.

Because I was raised in foster care, my view of family is a little different from hers. To me, a family is the group of people who you choose to have as your support network, who are closer than your outer rings of friends. For me, my family includes my birth mom, my foster parents, my foster sister, my foster grandfather, my two best friends and their families, my husband, his mother, his brother, my mentor and her family. They are the people my husband and I count on when the chips are down and the ones we would think of if we were having a child and wanted to plan for a guardian for them. I am predisposed to define family this way, as I lack functional biological connections people like my friend have and I have set about to fill up the slots with other people who love me and who I love.

So, clearly, there is a difference in definition because of a difference in perspective. We are both right for our given situation. I feel bad because I tried to change my friend's mind and convince her that my husband and I should be the ones they choose, even after she said they want to keep the baby with blood relatives if anything were to happen. I feel that everyone has the right to define family as their heart tells them, and yet I tried to infringe on my best friend's right to do this. I am going to give her a call and let her know that I will support whatever choice they make and that I do not expect her to change, since she would not expect me to change.

It still hurts a little though, to know how high up on my list she is and to know that I am not equally high on hers. This has been a problem I have encountered most of my life, so you would think I would be past it by now, but I am not. I have always wanted to be as important to people as they are to me, but with few rare exceptions, it has not happened that way. Perhaps this is something everyone deals with and I am just more sensitive to it because I grew up in foster care and know how easily people throw eachother away. Perhaps I cherish my connections mroe than most people because I have fewer of them. Either way, it is an icky feeling that I hope I will some day find a way to deal with.