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What Do I Owe My Mother?
N.V.
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I loved my mother without question when I was little, even though she hit me, cursed me, and left me alone in the apartment. Most of that time I was in foster care waiting for her to save me from my miserable, unstable life, but she kept letting me down. She missed agency visits I looked forward to, hoping to feel normal for an hour. I kept waiting for that mother-daughter relationship to emerge.

Something shifted, however, when I was 12, during a supervised visit in my foster care agency. It was my fourth time in that small family room, which had a wall lined with tiny plastic kitchenettes and a kiddie workshop area. Babbling babies and children played among dolls strewn across the floor. I remember the smell of the food other parents brought for their children. My mother was sitting in a blue chair near the toy area.

I said in a joking tone, “You owe me” about something. She answered harshly, “I don’t owe you sh-t.” Her words were a blow to my chest. I knew then that my father’s accusation was true: She did not care about me. As the tears ran down my face, I got up and asked my caseworker if the visit could be over. My mother sat there until a worker went back to talk to her.

My mother did not apologize for getting high off the money she got from selling jewelry my father gave me. She did not apologize for lacking parental skills supposedly taught in the programs she claimed she attended. She did not apologize for what she’d just said, that she owed me nothing. It made me wonder what our relationship meant: What do I owe a mother whose love was so skimpy, a woman mighty in flight but lacking in attentiveness and motherly love?

My mother didn’t seem to grasp the bonding idea. I first went into the care of her cousin when I was a baby, but lived illegally with her and my father when I was 5 and 6. She would go in and out, leaving me in the house alone. She got annoyed fast, and that meant beatings or pops with her fingers on my lips.

My residency with her ended, though, after she yanked me off the floor by my T-shirt and swung the belt, which left a mark on my face. She then took me to the park, bringing along my younger twin brothers in their carriage. My father was there, and he put something inside the baby carriage. The police approached us and found the drugs at the bottom of the twins’ carriage. They arrested my father right there.

Nine Homes I Remember

“What’s your address?” the cop asked me, bending down. He saw the mark on my face and asked what happened. My mother answered, “She was playing.” I started to cry, and my mother told me to “shut the f-ck up,” which made me cry harder. I could never recall our address when my mother asked me, but today I could, and I told the cop. My mother’s face grew cold and she spit out like daggers, “Now you remember?”

The officer grabbed my hand and we walked towards the cop car. That night I ended up in Queens with my aunt, and my brothers went into care. I would not see my brothers for years.

I stayed with my aunt for about four years. After that, I moved constantly. I can remember nine homes but there were more. At one placement, I was living with my twin brothers, but my foster mother got rid of them because she could not control them. The longest stay before my current placement was a year, with my uncle’s wife.

Even if they did like me when I was calm, no one could handle a child with temper problems. I was beginning to lose myself in my depression. I was an honor roll student who started to fight after settling into each new setting. I started to believe I would never find a foster mother who would give me a chance.

I was still seeing and talking to my mother all the time on the phone and visiting her at her different locations since she could not keep a place too long. On occasion, my mom would get upset with something I would tell her and her response would be, “Well, that’s not your mother.” She said this enough that I stopped calling my foster mothers “Mom.”

My Fault?

Who knew a mess like me could finally find a foster mother who cared enough to take me in and love me? When I realized, at age 13, that I finally had a home, I told my lawyer I did not want to return to my birth parents ever. I still kept in contact with my parents, though. The conversations with my mother didn’t last long, but I had a strong bond with my dad. The phone calls were like skating on thin ice because of the upcoming court date that would decide if they lost their parental rights. My parents knew of my decision not to go home. My father was the main one questioning why I did not want to be with family.

“Family is important. Those people out there don’t care about you,” my father told me. But I felt he was wrong. A few foster mothers had cared about me. Nothing could change my mind. I was sitting in bed reading when I got the call from my mother. I cried as she yelled at me through the phone, cursing me out.

“You told them you didn’t want to come home because you hated me? I don’t care if you hate me,” my mother yelled.

“I didn’t say that,” I lied. I just wanted the conversation to be finished.

“So why did they say that in the damn courtroom today?” I stayed quiet as a tear slipped down my face, then hung up the phone while she was talking. The rest of the day was nothing but vile voicemail messages.

I told my foster mother, “My parents hate me. They’re mad ‘cause their rights got terminated today.”

“They shouldn’t do that to you. You wait so long for them; now they get mad because you don’t want to go home.” I appreciated her for taking the role my mother should have played, pointing out what was fair and that I deserved decent treatment and a kind home.

image by YC-Art Dept

My mother kept throwing it in my face that I had broken up the family, and it seemed like she turned other family members against me. Even though I did not want to live with them, I felt as though I was the one who had lost.

My parents said that if I came home I would have nice clothes, shoes, and money when I wanted. My dad said I would be smarter in mathematics and not getting into any fights if I returned to them. My mother thought I owed her phone calls and visits with my family. So I would call her and I’d go to family events and hang out with them. These events always had me on edge because I felt ashamed of my decision. When they laughed together, I felt like I was imposing on their family fun.

The Beginning to an End

The last argument I had with my mother was when I was 17. I went to visit her in North Carolina, where she had moved in the middle of 2012. The visit with her was surprisingly calm and inviting. She was cooking Thanksgiving dinner, and I ran down the stairs to see if it was OK to eat. My mother would get upset when people were in the kitchen while she cooked.

“Can I have my own pie?” I asked my mother greedily.

“No, there’s not enough,” my mother replied.

I pouted and clutched her shoulder, “Please? They are so good.”

My mother chuckled and said, “You can get half.”

That moment was what I had wanted for so many years. I felt like things with my family had patched up, that I had found that family bond.

But that quickly ended the day after I got back to New York. I talked to my older sister (my mom has seven kids), and she asked if my mom had said anything about her during my visit. My sister was one of the few family members that still held my trust and loyalty.

“She was talking mad sh-t about you and why you left. I didn’t even want to hear it honestly,” I said before I went into detail. “She was talking about how lazy you are, how you just stayed upstairs all day, and how you were acting mad funny.” Before I hung up, I said, “Don’t tell Mommy I told you, though.”
Ten minutes later, my mother called.

“Who the f-ck told you to tell her what I was saying. I already told her, so why would you go and tell her?” my mother yelled.

“If you told her already, what’s the problem?” I said defensively. From there we began cursing each other out. I hung up on her angrily and called my sister. My sister apologized then suggested calling my mother, while I listened silently on the line. “F-ck that white b-tch,” my mother said about me, as if I was a stranger.

I couldn’t believe my ears. I did not talk to her again until after my 18th birthday.

College for Me

I messed up my senior year of high school and both my parents were upset. “I want you to graduate. You see if you ah live here trust me you ah graduate already,” my father bellowed in his Jamaican accent. My mother’s reaction was calmer as we had a long talk and she would tell me I have to get back on track and do what I need to do to graduate. She said, “We just want to see you graduate and go to college. Make something of yourself.”

That was a year ago. Since then I’ve attended all my classes and worked hard. A school staff member, Mr. Green, helped me get back on track with tough love, but then he died in the winter. My foster mother’s uncle, who favored me, also passed away. I was broken but I did not let that get in the way of the goal Mr. Green and I had set.

I graduated high school in June 2014, and I felt great. My best friends and my family were there, including my mother and my father. Their presence felt heartwarming and like a great relief. I’d given them the last of what I felt I owed them.

“I’m very proud of you and I love you,” my mother said, smiling hard.

“Thank you,” I replied. It felt good to hear that, but I’d stopped looking for that mother-daughter bond. Those years of her letting me down had worn away my hope. I was free from feeling as if I owed her anything. I gave my parents what every parent should get a chance to see—their child walk down the aisle for high school graduation. College is my opportunity to prove to myself that no matter how my parents treated me, I will come out on top.

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(FCYU-2016-07-18)

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