I never really had a traditional Christmas. At times, we were so poor we didn’t have a tree and had to go to the 99-cent store for gifts. Sometimes we had nothing at all. Sometimes the church would give us gifts. Before my mother told me at around age 5 Santa was not real, I made a list of things I wanted. I didn’t realize I was poor because everyone around me was poor.
My parents did save up money. We did get the typical clothes and shoes sometimes donated or from the thrift shop. Other times, we would get name brand stuff. My extended family would buy us gifts too. One Christmas my parents brought us a game system and a computer. I was still happy.
Enter foster care.
Not only was I away from my family and everything I ever knew, I didn’t expect much. I mean, I was either in a group home, hotel or living in a home with strangers. I was worried about my siblings. There was a lot of guilt being one of the older siblings. I was worried about my family.
I did have a Christmas visit once, but that time my parents couldn’t afford gifts. I didn’t mind but of course others complained – like my little siblings’ foster parents. They said, “Why didn’t you buy them something?” Well, gee maybe because they have other things to worry about like rent (we almost got evicted), food (food stamps cut off), phone (phone shut off too and was sent to the collection agency) and cable (sent to collections). When they did bring something at visits, people complained or took it away so my parents stopped bringing things to visits.
I was surprised there are people who buy foster kids gifts. My name was added to the list and I had to write what I wanted. Of course, I wanted the typical stuff teens wanted: laptop, cell phone, iPod, iPad, shoes, Lady Gaga CD and poster, Marylin Manson shirt, makeup and video games. Did I expect to get it? No, I thought it was B.S.
Well, I did get some of the things on my list and was shocked about it. I was kind of happy about it. I actually got what I asked for. Now, remember, I grew up poor in the hood and didn’t really have Christmas at times. Which is important? Gifts or rent? Shoes or an iPod? This was what we always had to consider. I was generally happy getting something I wanted.
Now here comes the weird part. I didn’t tell my mom and stepdad I got gifts. Why? Well, I don’t know why. I guess because I felt guilty for accepting them. I knew they couldn’t afford a lot of things I wanted. I didn’t want to hurt their feelings. I didn’t want them to think I liked foster care. It was already hard for me to accept things from my foster parents and others. In my mind, accepting something means they want something back or something bad will happen. It’s a trick. It was really hard for me and overwhelming, especially opening gifts and everyone is watching you expecting you to burst into tears and thank them while you hug them.
After I got my gifts, it caused problems. I couldn’t enjoy them or keep them. It was either my foster parents complaining biological kids didn’t get that many gifts. So they wanted it to be fair or biological kids are jealous. It was also: ‘we don’t allow that in our home’ or ‘you need to be grateful.’
People expected too much from me. What kid wants socks, underwear, bras and shoes all the time? What kid considers another kid’s feelings when they really want a gift? What kid won’t be selfish with their gift? The gifts were something that was mine, but nothing is yours in foster care.
The holidays just reminded me what I lost. I was not with my real family and wasn’t seen as a real child. Sometimes I was placed in respite care during Christmas because Christmas is for families. I was not family. Sometimes I was disrupted around or on Christmas. Sometimes I came into a home around the holidays.
My foster families (except one) never asked me what I did with my family or what I would like. I was just expected to fit right in and pretend that I liked their holiday traditions and their decorations. Nobody ever stopped to think it was overwhelming, different or depressing for me. Nobody stopped to think I came from the hood and I didn’t know a lot of things. I didn’t know how to hang Christmas lights or put up a real tree.
So yeah, Christmas in foster care sucked for me. I had all of these feelings and confusion.
Anonymous was in foster care for four years before being reunited with her family at age 16. She is now 21.