Could I Be Another Mother's Daughter?
Agencies across the country want to get more teens adopted. When it was my choice, I wasn't sure. By Natalie K.
"Wow, can they really be taking me to lunch and giving me authentic jewelry? I just met them a few weeks ago and they're giving me gifts for my birthday, which passed six months ago. What's going on?" The couple had given me a 14k gold chain with a real sapphire diamond on it and a pair of earrings to match. They had a nice, big house upstate where they wanted to take my sister and I, and they were planning to take us to Maine for the summer, for a vacation. They wanted to adopt my sister and me from foster care, and we had to decide quickly whether we wanted them to be our parents or not. My sister and I came into foster care with no parents and no relatives anyone could find. My pops died from cancer and my moms died about two years after from a heart attack. (Both of them were alcoholics and smokers). My sister was 10 and I was 12 years old when my mother died.
Put In the Adoption Album
When we came into care, my social worker told us that she was going to take pictures of my sister and me. I asked, "Why?" She said she needed to put our pictures in a book, "just for the record." I didn't know that the pictures would go into a book that families wanting a child would look at. I didn't know those pictures would lead to such a serious issue-adoption. A lot of people get foster care and adoption mixed up, but they're really very different. When you're in foster care you really belong to the city and a foster parent or group home staff are paid to take care of you. When you are adopted, you become part of a family and no one pays that family. If the family buys you new clothes, they take the money out of their own pocket. But the main difference between adoption and foster care is that adoption is permanent and foster care isn't. If you're adopted, you're in that home for good. It's supposed to be similar to living with a biological family-you're part of the family.
The Fish Bite
About a year and a half after I took the pictures, it seemed that everyone wanted me to be adopted. "We have a nice family for you who lives upstate. Do you want to be adopted?" my social worker asked. "You want me to adopt you?" my adult friend, Gia asked. Gia is 33 years old and like a Godmother to me. When I lived with my mother, she lived in an apartment upstairs from us. My sister and I saw her almost every weekend when we first went into care. Now she buys me things whenever I'm in need and my foster mother doesn't help me out. Even my best friend Monika said, "When I have more space, maybe I can adopt you, right?" And my foster mother wondered, "Do ya want to be adopted by me?" Which Family Should I Choose? Did I have to be adopted? Who would I choose as my family? Could I wait before deciding? Luckily, I was old enough that they had to get my permission before anyone adopted me. My sister wasn't old enough, but they don't like to split up siblings. So I was the one who got to make the decision. But what would I choose? Back then I thought adoption meant that I would belong to a family all over again. I thought that I could become close to that family, but not as close as I was to my real parents. Even if the new parents were great they couldn't fully take the place of my real parents. My biological parents raised me and made me who I am today. For some family to think they could just walk in my life and claim that they're my parents made me feel uncertain about them. Still, I thought it would be good to be part of a family again, with parents who would choose to adopt me and really care about me. But who knew if I would go into a family that really cared about me, or one that would abuse or neglect me? It was kind of like playing the lottery. I couldn't really tell what a family was like by going out to dinner with them a few times.
Did I Want to be Adopted?
My sister and I met with the couple from upstate a few times. They would ask how I was doing and they would ask about school. That made me feel like they were interested and cared about me, unlike my foster mother who never asked those types of questions. They seemed like the perfect parents since there was a mother and a father, and they were married and lived in a house. They also showed their affection by getting me gifts for my birthday, which my foster mother doesn't do. I did and didn't want to be adopted by them. I did because it was only going to be my sister and me in a big, beautiful house. Also, the couple seemed to really care or like us, at least more than our foster mother did. I didn't want to go because of how far it would be from Brooklyn. I didn't want to leave my best friends because they have been there for me since before my mother died. One of my friends raised money for my mother's memorial and burial. And I wouldn't want to lose Gia and her boyfriend by moving somewhere far like upstate.
I Felt Strange
But most of all, the whole thing made me feel strange. I felt like the family was trying to buy us, and there was something funny about that. They would spend so much money in the little time they knew us, and we know from the Beatles that money can't buy love, and from J. Lo that love don't cost a thing. Before I went into foster care, my mother, sister, grandmother, roommate and I were living in the ghetto where there were drug dealers, roaches and rats. We were in a very small, $600 apartment of three rooms. We lived off my mother's welfare check, my grandmother's social security check, and the money that our roommate sometimes gave us-basically we were poor. But even if I had to choose to live with someone rich or live in the ghetto with my mother, I would definitely choose my mother. I was so confused about what to do about the couple upstate. I felt flattered that they wanted to adopt me, scared that if I turned them down I might hurt them, and worried that if I let them adopt me and my sister, they might hurt us, or we might regret it.
Pressure to Choose
Some people were telling me to be adopted and some were telling me not to. Gia and Andrew were telling me not to because we wouldn't be able to see them. My social worker really wanted me to be adopted. She thinks it's best for foster kids to have permanent homes, and people they can turn to when they're trying to become independent adults. I thought about it for a month. I knew it was a decision that could change my life forever. Then my sister and I decided to turn the family upstate down. That was well over a year ago. But I still sometimes wonder about how my life would be if I were with that family upstate. After I turned the family upstate down, Gia and Andrew wanted to adopt us. I knew they are great people with good advice and care, but still something was holding me back. It took me a while to figure it out, but I felt that I had to be the way they expected me to be or else they wouldn't like me or accept me. It wasn't something I just felt about them, really. I felt that being in foster care has taught me how to adapt to everyone's lifestyle, but I haven't yet figured out what my own lifestyle is.
What Kind of Family Do I Want?
When I go to my friend Monica's house we go to church on Sunday. If we don't we kind of get in trouble. But in Gia's, it is the opposite-she and her boyfriend are not religious people, and they don't want my sister and me to go to church when we're with them. When I go to Gia's, we usually watch TV, talk and eat together. But in my foster home, I come home and go straight upstairs to my room. My foster mother and I don't eat or watch TV together. When I am with my friends I like to wear name-brand clothes, but Gia doesn't care for clothes with logos. Also, neither Gia nor Monika like the music I listen to. I felt like if I got adopted I would have to pick one person's way of living. It was like choosing how I should be: Should I act religious or not? Should I watch TV or read a book? Could I wear this?
Turning Down Adoption
I try to be this perfect friend to everyone so that they will like me. I no longer have one clear family, so I'm always trying to adapt to my friends' lifestyles. If I got adopted, I would have one clear family. But would it be the kind I wanted? After I turned down Gia and Andrew, I also turned down the whole idea of adoption, period! I told my social worker to change my goal from adoption to independent living. Independent living means I will live in a foster home until I'm 18 or 21, and then I'll be on my own. Today I'm still in a foster home. I'm glad that I decided to stay in foster care because I see all my friends regularly, and if I feel my foster mother is treating me wrong, I will be able to move. It won't be permanent. I'm also glad because when I graduate from high school my agency will pay for my room and board in college until I'm 21. I sometimes think about how all those people wanted to adopt me. I do think it would be great to be part of a family again-especially if the family was perfect. (Ha ha, yeah right!) But I also don't believe that I can fully be part of a family again. Maybe it can come very close, but deep down inside I think that it can't be the same. No one can really replace the love that was between my mother and me. My mother had been there since I was born. She knew me better than myself at times, and I knew she definitely loved me. Therefore I didn't have to be a certain way for her to like me. Since I was her daughter, I knew she loved me already.
I Miss Mom
My mother and I didn't always agree on everything, but we would always show our love for each other by giving each other a hug and kiss before I went somewhere and sometimes after I came back. We used to talk about her past, and we would talk about things that were going on then. I really do miss her and those times. I especially miss the times we ate dinner and watched TV together. Sometimes I envy my friends who I see have good relationships with their mothers-the ones that can talk to their mothers about anything. And I envy my friends when I'm at their house and we are all eating and watching a movie, because I can't do that anymore with my mother, and I don't do that with my foster mother. Sometimes I even get angry when my friends disrespect their parents right in front of me, and I wind up telling them to chill. But I also feel good sometimes that I get to be with them as if I'm part of the family. For now, that's as close as I expect to get to being part of a new family. "Reprinted with permission from Foster Care Youth United, Copyright 200X by Youth Communication/New York Center, Inc. ()."