My journey into care began the summer before my junior year of high school. That’s when my family—never all that stable—began to unravel. My mom lost her job, and my sister came home from college to get treatment for her depression. My dad fell under the pressure of being the only financial supporter of the house, and began to drink to the point where he would lock himself in his room and I would not see him for days. My mother also stayed in her room a lot and stopped shopping, cooking, cleaning, and parenting.
For most of my life, and those last couple of months in particular, I never knew what chaos would be waiting for me when I woke up and got out of bed. We often had no money and no food. On more than one occasion, the electricity got cut off, and I could not do the daily electric-powered lung therapy I need to do for my disease, cystic fibrosis. Finally, I decided I needed to leave. On November 7, 2011, I moved out of my parent’s house and in with my best friend’s family.
When I moved out, I knew my relationship with my mother would forever be changed. I suspected that she would never forgive me. But I was unable to live in the conditions of that home, and I needed to think about my future.
Things at home continued to fall apart after I moved out. On December 4, my father was admitted to the hospital after passing out from drinking and being stuck in his room for several hours, unconscious on the floor where he’d fallen. He never fully recovered from the head trauma, and he died 10 days later. Soon after that, I officially went into the foster care system.
Ever since I moved out, my mom has felt victimized. In her eyes, foster care wasn’t about me getting the help I needed, but about government workers calling her a bad parent. At our very first family meeting in court after I went into care, shortly after my dad passed away, my mother dropped a bombshell.
“Mrs. Tecsy, we would like for both you and your daughter to engage in individual therapy and then work your way toward family therapy and dialectical behavior therapy,” the judge said.
“I am going to be moving to Florida, so I cannot commit to this engagement,” my mother announced. She had never told me this plan. And on September 13, 2012, once my mom finally moved, family reunion was no longer achievable. She has consistently refused to cooperate with anyone in the foster care system.
Planning My Future
It was time to set a new goal—Another Planned Permanent Living Arrangement, or APPLA. APPLA is a safety net for older children in foster care to get them ready for adulthood. I don’t ever want to move back in with my mom, and I don’t want to have to feel guilty about that or feel responsible for her. I am preparing for life on my own.
Last January, we had a meeting to discuss my APPLA and what would happen when I went off to college in September. My mother joined over speaker phone from Florida. Until I’m 21, my mother has to be in these meetings, which is hard for me to grasp. In my opinion, the whole point of foster care was the validation of the dysfunction in my former home with my birth parents. Especially now that family reunion is no longer the goal, it doesn’t make sense to have to negotiate peace between my old life and my new life.
Around the table sat a social worker, an educational consultant, three other supervisors I had never met before, and my foster parents Kim and Farhan. Kim and Farhan give me stability and love and help me schedule these meetings, and they work with me to figure out my future. My foster parents allow me to put myself first and make responsible decisions for myself. They give me the freedom and the support to get where I want to go.
The supervisor, Rachel, who knows my mother, was not able to make this meeting so she had a social worker sitting in for her. The new social worker dialed the phone, which sat in the middle of the table, facing her, with its back to me. Everyone else’s eyes were on me.
Despite my mother’s history of alienating social workers, I hoped that something good would come out of this phone call. Things felt less hostile since she’d moved to Florida. As I started getting into colleges, I would call her and listen to her cry and tell me how proud of me she was. When I got my senior portraits, I e-mailed my favorite one to her, and read, over and over again, her response telling me how beautiful she thought I was. Recently, when our conversations ended, my eyes welled with relief and comfort rather than pain and disappointment.
Sharing these exciting moments in my life with her always seemed to ease the tension between us. And it didn’t require us to talk about the past or the present, but my future, which she always reminded me was bright. A lot of people tell me this, but it’s a different feeling to hear it from my mom.
So as the phone rang, I was optimistic. We weren’t revisiting any cases of neglect, blame, or disappointment. This meeting was about me and college and what I needed to do to make my dreams a reality.
‘I Am Not Her Mother’
My mother picked up and said hello. She sounded calm.
“Hello, Mrs. Tecsy,” said the substitute social worker. “I am calling you from the Children’s Aid Society and I am sitting here with an educational consultant, a social worker, and Camilla and her foster parents. I want to talk to you about Camilla’s status in foster care.”
“Where is Rachel?” my mom asked, her voice turning snappy. I tensed up.
“Rachel could not make it today, but I am filling in for her. We wanted to talk to you about what your daughter is going to do come September when she goes off to college.”
“My daughter?” my mother asked sarcastically, the anger sharpening in her voice. “She is no longer my daughter. I am not her mother anymore.”
“You will always be her mother, Mrs. Tecsy.”
“If I was her mother, then she would not have abandoned me.” The rampage began. “Is Camilla there? Can she hear me?” My mom did not like that she was on speaker phone, and that these people were speaking on my behalf while I sat there listening. She repeated what she’d been saying for the last year to the people trying to help me: This is all Camilla’s fault…I have lost my rights as a birth mother…Camilla doesn’t care about my opinion…Camilla doesn’t try to sustain a relationship with me anymore, so you can’t tell me she still loves me….
I felt like vomiting. It had been silly to hope she’d be fair or reasonable. Yes, some of my mother’s rights as a parent have been stripped, but I couldn’t have made that decision even if I wanted to. All I wanted was help. I sat there silent and miserable as she ranted.
After half an hour of my mother going back and forth with the supervisors, I passed a note to Kim: This is unproductive. Around that table, everyone could see everything, and when their eyes caught the words on my note, they all nodded, and the social worker began to conclude the phone conversation with my mother. Before she hung up, she said she wanted to say something to me, so the phone was pushed closer toward my side of the table, and was facing me now. Instead of her phone-back, I was now looking at her phone-eyes.
She spoke in a passive-aggressive tone. “I want to wish you, Miss Tecsy, the best of luck with everything. You deserve it—.” I hung up on her.
The tension in my muscles released and I began to cry. One of the social workers, who was a stranger to me, said, “I understand what it’s like to be unable to satisfy a parent.”
Those words softened me. I looked him in the eye and could tell he spoke from experience. I knew he knew what I had just gone through and what I faced. I knew I wasn’t alone.
The Life I Want
Moving out of the house forced me to figure out what I want and need. I want stability and a family whose members look out for each other. Independence is important, but so are attention, stability, and a routine. The medical requirements for my cystic fibrosis are specific and demanding. I cannot afford to skip a meal or my lung therapy on any day. My mom could not provide that stability.
I know she is still proud of me in her heart. I know she thinks I’m strong, brave, and independent, but I hurt her when I left her, and it’s hard for her to see how the move has helped me. But going forward, the decisions I make cannot be about obtaining her approval. They have to be about the life I want and about telling the truth.
Before I moved into my best friend’s house, when I was still living at home, I repressed my feelings of sadness and hopelessness. I felt guilty for ever being dissatisfied with the way things were being handled at home. But ever since I first opened my mouth for help, it was like unlocking a door—even more than that. It was also throwing away the key so that I could never lock the door again.
Managing Our Relationship
Now, when I am upset or need something, I ask for help. I talk to the people who love me, support me, and stand by my side. By talking, I release the instability and insanity of the years I spent living in that house and dealing with her anger. My mind eases back into the present. I can remember how far I’ve come, how hard I’ve worked to get to where I am, and where I’m trying to end up.
It will be complicated to try to maintain a relationship with my mother. I have to learn to create boundaries by not calling her sometimes, and by not always picking up when she calls, in order to protect myself. In a conference room with social workers around, I know that when I hang up the phone, the people around me support my decision to preserve myself. But when I’m in my room alone and I say something to my mom that sets her off, I feel guilty, like I did something wrong. And so, in the privacy of my room, I scream back at her. The yelling leads to neither of us listening to each other.
Telling my mom only about my successes avoids the volatile topic of social workers and foster care, but I can’t just leave out everything about my life in care when we talk. I don’t want to hide parts of my life from her. But sometimes, the right answer is to hide things from her in order to avoid the blowback.
I believe the truest parts of my mother are the parts I love, including the part that can be proud of me. When she flips out in rage, she’s not really herself. Even though I can get pulled in and respond to her with anger or sadness, I don’t want that to define who she is, and I don’t let what she says about me in anger define who I am. Believing in the best of my mother allows me to handle her not-best self. It is a strategy that allows me to be happy and keep her in my life, while also moving forward into the life I want.