By Michael Schwietert
Alone. Confused. Unorganized. These are words that describe my time in the foster care system. I was placed in foster care at the age of 3 and reunited with my mother at 5. During the time away from my mother, I was able to see things from a different point of view, from a really unstable point of view. I was able to see many different homes from many different standpoints, and it was then I realized that I was my own best friend. There were never adults to share much time with me. Other youth in each home looked at me differently, and many were thrown off by my skin color. I became self-reliant and trained myself to go through the motions, home after home.
After I was placed back with my mother, things were different—but they were also the same. The care needed for a young son to grow was not present, and, aside from some teachers, there were no other adults to see me for who I was. Most of the time, I felt like another mouth to feed. My wheels would keep turning in my expanding mind. I was always a very sleepy child. This was mostly due to my dreams. I often felt that my dreams would help me escape what was really happening around me. What was happening around me? Neglect.
I stayed with my mom for a year before her old habits returned. I began to see many new faces. Faces of people who would watch me for a short moment while my mother went out for the evening. I saw faces of people once and never again. My mother’s behavior continued and soon caught up with her. I was put back into the state’s custody and shuffled through more homes.
I had become used to being seen as just another mouth to feed, just another child in a home. So I went through my routine of entertaining myself and always thinking of what things would be like if my circumstances were different. I was always alone it seemed. I dreamed alone and woke up alone. I remember waking up my first night in one of my new homes. I wasn’t able to have a bed that evening, or any other evening, but I remember I fell asleep alone and I was awakened by wet dog kisses. I began to like dogs after that.
Other children in these homes never paid much attention to me because they were secure in their environment. They had grown up in their own families while I, on the other hand, was a mere passenger waiting for my next stop on a never-ending train. I was fine with this behavior. I was very attuned to my circumstances and figured these children might distract me anyway. I was always wondering where I would be next. Always wondering if I could go on adventures and see how the “lucky” kids lived. These chances never came, but their absence helped shape me into a very patient person.
I was later adopted into a terrific home. The family was great, and they even had dogs! The room for a young man to grow was present, but the push to flourish was not there. I soon realized I would have to shape myself and push myself to reach my fullest potential. My family could show me attention, but overall I knew self-reliance would get me the furthest.
I graduated on time because I realized that my education would take me places, to the places I had dreamed about. I am currently working a full-time construction job, going to school and helping at home with my brothers and sisters to support them in realizing their potential.
Even when all seemed lost and like no one would throw me a rope, I kept moving forward. I encourage you to push yourself to your dreams—or help the youth you work with to do so—with the hopes of one day being able to reach out and touch them.