This is a teen-written article from our friends at Represent Magazine, a platform for and by young people in foster care. Represent is published by Youth Communication, a nonprofit organization that helps marginalized youth develop their full potential through reading and writing.
By Quotesia Johnson
My parents met in the Jefferson Housing Project in Harlem, fell in love, and had a bright and talented little girl on January 28, 1993. But they did not stay together long. At first, my mother took care of me during the week, and my father would take me on the weekend. By the time I turned 2, my father had sole custody of me.
Although I talked to my mom on the phone once in a while, I never truly understood what was going on. I felt like I was the main reason that my mother was gone. I cried when other kids teased me, saying that my mother gave me away because she hated me.
I believed it at that time. I had younger brothers and a sister, with different fathers, and she took them with her when she left my dad and me. I felt like maybe she did not need me, maybe she left for a good reason, maybe I was too bad of a child for anyone to love. These thoughts introduced a lot of stress and anxiety.
I always wanted to have my mother in my life. I used to envy the girls at the mall with their mothers having fun. I used to cry myself to sleep thinking that I was the cause of my parents breaking up. I wondered what it would be like if I were never born, or if I killed myself.
In happier moods, I imagined mother-daughter time: cooking together, learning how to sew, doing our hair, hanging out, shopping, talking, just doing what average mothers and daughters did.
I did have my aunt as a mother figure in my life. She did some of those motherly things with me, but her main concern was her twin sons. I felt loved, but it was not the same as having a mother I could call my own.
A Family Without Her
Early on, I grew accustomed to living with my father, aunt, and grandfather. Then my grandfather died on my father’s birthday. I was 14 and just about to graduate from middle school. The family took it hard but I took it the hardest. I respected my grandfather more than I respected anyone else. He loved me unconditionally, but was stern with me when I did something wrong.
At this point, I only saw my mother once or twice a year. The stress and anxiety of missing her turned to anger and hostility after the passing of my grandfather. Why should I care about doing well, if nobody was there to see?
I started fighting and stealing phones on the subway, and I joined a gang. Gangbanging took the stress away because I was not holding in my emotions anymore, I was taking them out on other people. If people gave up on me and stopped caring about me then nothing would matter. This thought was comforting.
Some of my “friends” stole from my aunt, and she was so mad she kicked me out of the house. This forced my father to do something he did not want to do: move me into a shelter for teenagers. While I was in the shelter, I called my mother.
I told her I was no longer in the custody of my father, hoping she would rush to my aid. She did not. My father was the only one to come and visit me in the shelter. This made me lean toward my father even more; he showed that he cared and would stand behind me no matter what. I started to doubt that my mother and I would ever have the relationship I yearned for.
After a short period, I moved to a rapid assessment program (RAP) in Brooklyn, where I stayed for six months. During that time, my mother called me four times but never visited. She would ask the same things every time we talked: Are you all right? Are they treating you good? Are you eating? Are you OK? My father, meanwhile, was coming to see me every weekend.
Finally, the court sent me to a residential treatment center (RTC). While I was there, I stopped going AWOL, limited my cursing, and improved my attitude.
Giving Her a Chance
One Sunday while I was living at the RTC, I went to church. The pastor said, “Honor thy mother and thy father and your days will be longer on this earth.” I decided to try contacting my mother again. That way I’d never have to ask, “What if I heard my mother’s side of the story and it helped me put the pieces of the puzzle together?” or “What if all this time my mother wanted to have a relationship with me and just didn’t know how to go about it?” or “What if the truth comes out and I feel so bad that I never considered giving my mother a chance?” I realized that friends come and go but you only get one biological mother and father.