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Essay: Foster Care Holidays
Maria and the Christmas of 2005
By Gillan Ritchie
*Author's Note: Names and locations have been changed due to the sensitive nature of the piece. .
I am an only child, and growing up was sometimes a little lonely. I had friends that I could hang out with and share secrets with but for me, I always wondered what it would be like to have a sibling. All of my friends who had siblings told me they were jealous of me being an only child. Well, I was jealous of them for having siblings.
I think due to my upbringing and being an only child, I have learned to be self-sufficient. There are occasions where I can be selfish – the con of being an only child – but when it comes down to it, I really love to share and give. I wanted a sibling who I could share experiences with and be there for them whenever they needed it.
Even at the age of 25, I still sometimes wonder what it would be like to have a sibling and the ups and downs that come with that type of relationship.
In 2004, as I was finishing up middle school, my parents announced that they were going to become foster parents. I was elated and prayed that a foster child would become my sibling. I would finally have that relationship I had always wanted and someone to experience life with me.
My parents went through months of training with our state’s foster care system. I attended most sessions, like first aid and CPR, but there were also some meetings that I was not allowed to go to due to sensitive material.
I remember my parents getting our house ready such as locking away power tools and adding a lock to the basement door. They were required to hide away medications in their bathroom closet and add a lock to that door as well. Once we made the necessary changes to our home, the social services worker came and inspected our home.
Throughout the spring and summer of 2005, my parents offered respite care, which is when foster children stay for a few days while their foster parents take some time off. Once their foster parents are back, children leave respite care and go back to their family.
In August 2005, we were finally assigned a foster child. Her name was Maria* and she was only a few months older than me. Maria hailed from Latin America; when she was younger, her mother brought her to the U.S. illegally. Once they had arrived, Maria’s mother left her on the streets to fend for herself. Maria sought refuge with her cousin Michael*, who lived with his wife in a tiny one bedroom apartment. Maria stayed with them for a while but Michael and his wife were expecting their first child. But Michael was struggling to provide for his family. When the baby came, Maria was an extra mouth to feed. It was at that point that Maria entered the foster care system.
The next few months were bumpy because Maria was struggling in school, had an attitude whenever she came home and needed extra assistance with her homework. Sometimes, I was irritated because she required so much of my parents’ time but I had to remind myself that that was part of what a sibling meant—I had to share.
Before we knew it, Christmas was upon us. My family and I had made plans to drive out to Mississippi on Dec. 26, 2005, to see my grandfather and grandmother. Maria saw Michael, his wife and the baby during December and she wanted to go back for Christmas. However, Social Services said no because there was no transportation and respite families for the holidays were booked. Maria was to travel to Mississippi with us after Christmas.
My family and I were getting ready to head to a neighbor’s Christmas party when a friend of Maria’s called to ask if she could go to the ice skating rink. My mother had told Maria no because she had never met the friend and that Maria would not be able to hang out with them until my parents had met the friend.
Maria was angry with my parents and there was an argument. She went up to her room where she stayed until we left for a neighbor’s Christmas party. She came to the Christmas party with us but while we were there, she complained of a bad headache and wanted to go home. My dad walked her across the street, let her into our house, gave her some aspirin and then he came back to the party.
We stayed at the neighbor’s Christmas party for a few more hours and we headed home between 10 and 11 p.m. We came home and got ready for bed.
My Christmas morning was met with yelling and I remember being woken up by it. I was half asleep but I could hear my dad running down the hall way toward Maria’s room and the exchange of muffled words.
Christmas morning of 2005 was the worst holiday experience I have ever had. My parents and I spent around an hour being questioned by police. My parents also spoke with the social services worker on the phone. It wouldn’t surprise me if nosy neighbors watched through their curtains with speculations and whispers as police came in and out of our house.
Maria had left with the house key; we didn’t want to cancel our vacation to Mississippi so we changed the outside locks on the house.
She had left with what was on her back – she didn’t take any of her belongings or any of the presents under the Christmas tree. My mom had left her purse on the back of the kitchen chair, my dad’s wallet placed neatly on his placemat. Maria left all of that untouched – which still amazes us to this day.
This year marks the 10-year anniversary in which Maria left me heartbroken, confused and without the sibling I had always wanted and my parents angry, yet concerned. After Maria’s abrupt departure, my parents never fostered again. My mom wanted to foster but after our experience with Maria, my dad and I didn’t want to foster.
While it’s a Christmas we’ll never forget as a family, I can now confidently say that I am no longer angry or hurt by her ruining our holiday. I can only pray that she is happy, healthy and in a safe place.
#Real #Essay #Christmas #Holidays #FosterCare #NotAccordingToPlan
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