Thursday, November 4, 2010

Moving foster homes

Every move, every new family, every new set of rules, every new bed, every new school leaves a bruise on a foster child.  Packing up and moving was agony in the beginning for me.  I would cry and watch my foster mother pack my clothes in garbage bags.  Sometimes I would plead with her.  "What did I do?  I'm sorry, I'll be good.  I'll be better.  Please don't get rid of me.  Will I ever see you again?"  I would sob and beg my foster parents to keep me.  I never understood why they were making me move--why they were getting rid of me.  Why they didn't want me.  What did I do?  Even today I can't answer those questions for myself.  I feel like I need these answers in order to heal, but I know I'll never get an answer good enough to heal my heart.

While my foster parent was packing my stuff I would cry and wonder where I was going.  Would there be any kids there?  Will there be any toys?  Can I take my toys?  Can I take my pillow?  Will they have pets?  Do I have to change schools?  Will they be strict?  Will they like me?  Will they keep me?  Will THEY love me?

I would look around my room one last time.  Goodbye bed!  Goodbye pillow.  Goodbye pets!  Goodbye toys.  When I was younger I would hug my foster siblings goodbye.  I loved them.  I always loved them.  I always fell in love with my foster families in the beginning.  Always.  When I got older I learned not to care about my foster families.  I learned not to attach to my foster siblings.  They were just temporary playmates.  They were not my friends or my family.  I tried not to like them too much.  I would like them just enough to make our time together bearable.  

When I got older I would pack my own belongings.  I would stuff my clothing into large black garbage bags. Eventually I got so good at packing, I could be ready to leave in less then ten minutes.  My whole life consisted of clothes and stuffed animals that would fit into four large plastic bags.  I stopped asking why I was moving.  I stopped wondering what I had done wrong.  I stopped asking why they didn't love me or keep me.  I didn't care.  I knew the answer.  The answer was they didn't want me because I was unlovable.  I was a horrible person.  No one could ever love me.  I wasn't good enough to be in this foster home.  I learned not to attach to foster parents.  I learned not to love them.  I knew they would hate me.  I knew they wouldn't love me.  I knew they would only use me and then throw me away.  I didn't care about them either.  I didn't trust foster parents. My foster parents were adults and adults were liars.  Adults are greedy.  Adults will hurt you.  Adults can not be trusted.  Ever.

Every time I moved, my case worker would pick me up.  I had about seven case workers before I aged out.  Most of them were horribly inadequate.  Most of them were liars.  Most of them just didn't understand.  My case worker would pick me up, load my things into her car, and then drive me wherever I was going next.   In the beginning I would cry the entire way to my new foster home.  I would ask my case worker why I had to move.  "I liked it there.  Why do I have to move again?  What did I do wrong?  Why can't I stay?  I'll be better!  I'll be good, I promise.  Tell them that I'll be good!"  My case worker never had the right answers for me. The answers were never good enough.  "They just weren't the right family for you, but you'll like this new family."  What does that mean?  What is the right family for me?  Is this new family the right family for me?  Would there ever be a family for me?  When I got older the car rides were silent.  I didn't ask any questions.  I didn't want any answers. 

Going to a new foster home is scary, no matter how old you are or how stubborn and stoic you act.  It's like going to a new land with new customs and rules.  A new land where they judge you and size you up.  A new land where they get to decide if you are worthy of their love or not.  A new land that may or may not be your forever home.  A new land that could change your life or cause more pain.  A new land that decides your future.

I never knew what to expect, no matter how much my case worker tried to prepare me.  The minute we drove away from my old foster home, my heart would race.  I could barely breathe.  When we got there, my case worker would unload my belongings and then knock on the door.  The new foster parent would answer.  It was usually a foster mother, but sometimes it was a foster father.  Sometimes they were excited to see me, sometimes they seemed nervous, sometimes they seemed indifferent, like I was forced upon them.  I would walk into the house and immediately be attacked by a wave of sensory input.  New smells, new sites, new voices, new textures below my feet, new people.

You would be so surprised how many foster parents are in it for the money.  A large percentage are!  After I went mute and tried to kill myself I became a "special needs" foster child and needed a "therapeutic foster home."  To be a therapeutic foster home, all you have to do is take a few extra classes.  My foster parents received $1200 a month to keep me!  I know this because my last foster parents shared this information with me and even let me see the checks.  $1200!  How does it cost $1200 to care for a quiet, mute, anorexic child?  Many of my foster parents were in it for the money.  Too many of them.  One foster mother even made me sleep in a one room guest house and eat in the laundry room.  I was NOT allowed in HER house.  I was NOT allowed to use the telephone.  I was NOT part of her life or family.  I hardly ever saw her.  I went to school, came home, went to bed, then did it all over again. For this she received $1200 a month!

Moving made me extremely anxious.  So anxious that I would have panic attacks at bed time.  I would panic and then cry myself to sleep.  I would cry for my mama.  I would cry for my brothers and sisters.  I would cry for my last foster parents.  I would cry because I wanted so badly for someone to love me, but no one ever did.  I would cry myself to sleep every night until one day I couldn't cry anymore.  I couldn't speak anymore.  I couldn't feel anymore. 

Foster care needs to change.  It should be illegal to allow a child to move 42 times in 18 years.  It should be criminal.  Foster parents need to know what they can and cannot handle before they take in a child.  Foster children are NOT merchandise that you can return if you don't like them.  Foster parents need to be honest with foster children.  Wondering why I had to move over and over again was not healthy.  It didn't protect me to not know why I had to move repeatedly.  I'm an adult now and I still wonder.  My heart still remembers every move I made.  My heart still knows that no one wanted me.  My heart knows nothing else.  I'm an adult and I still want a family.  I still want a mom.  I still dream that someone will adopt me even though I know it's ridiculous and will never happen.  I still want to belong to someone.   I still think about how my life would be different if someone had wanted me.  If someone had committed to being in my life, for the rest of my life.  Every child deserves a home and a family.  Every child deserves to have their own bed, their own pillow.  Every child deserves to know where they will be sleeping that night.  Every child deserves to know that someone will hug them today.  These things aren't true for too many foster children.  Too may foster children are thrown away like garbage over and over again until they are eventually thrown away for good by the government.  This leaves us with nothing.  This leaves us feelings like nothing.  This leaves us feeling like garbage.  Even after 18 we still need to be loved.  We still need to be cared about.  We still need families.