We launched a writing contest to see what former foster youth had to say about their time in care or their experiences with the justice system. The contest gave youth the opportunity to write on one of three themes: “What does home mean to you?” “What’s one thing the child welfare or juvenile justice system could have done to help you but didn’t?” and “How has the criminal justice and/or correctional system impacted your family and you personally?” Here is the runner-up for the “defining home” category.
Home. The dictionary definition in the sense of a noun is, “the place where one lives permanently, especially as a member of a family or household.” Home is a word that has one dictionary definition, but a million different definitions, to a million different people. Home.
My first home was nestled in my mother’s womb. Safe, warm, quiet, the steady beat of her heart music to my unborn ears. It was in this space that I was in between the spiritual world and earth side. Not knowing the despair, grief, pain, joy, unconditional love and unknown that awaited me. My 14-year-old pregnant mom, her home was abuse-filled, chaotic, painful. Within her womb, in my first home, she protected me from the unknown that I would quickly learn about once coming earth side.
Through the first three years cafter coming earth side, “home” was many different places. Aunties’ homes, grandparents’ homes, foster homes, cousins’ homes. Many different walls saw my face come and go, come and never come back. The spaces that we dwelled, some welcoming, some forced. None of these spaces were permanent, so they do not fit the dictionary definition provided to us, nor does the space I consider to have been my home. Between newborn to age 3, my home was my mother’s arms. Head nestled under her chin on her chest while she embraced me with one scrawny arm and my baby brother with the other. Again, listening to the steady beat of her heart, reminding me of being safe in her womb from the chaos that was unfolding before my fugitive eyes.
At age 3, I was placed in my biological father’s care. With him, “home” was various spaces before settling down finally in Rochester, Minn., in an apartment. That space was labeled as “home” on court documents, school documents, doctor’s notes. Though, the space never felt like “home.” See, you have the literal definition, but home for me is a feeling. A feeling that is hard to eloquently articulate. But a feeling where your heart and mind can rest, just be. Sometimes it can be a space, such as my mother’s arms, but it is more than that. I did not have that with my father. Respite was found on the basketball court, on the football field, tucked away in my closet amongst the chaos. Home was found on the streets. Walking and not knowing a single person who walked by me gave comfort. Strolling past the city lights and storefronts among the smog of the city gave me that space where I could just be.
At age 12, I was placed in police protective custody from my father. Foster homes, residential treatment centers, group homes became the “home.” Many more walls, many more windows, came and went. I would leave these spaces chasing that feeling of home on the streets. Just wanting to lay my head on my mom’s chest to hear her steady heartbeat and know it was going to be OK. Longing to be home in her arms, because the streets were showing me no love. The different “homes” were not home at all. Strange places, with strange faces, with strange feelings.
At age 15 my “home” was a log house on the Leech Lake Reservation. It was here that a physical space finally became “home;” it was here that my home met the dictionary definition. Strange faces here, became Maamaa, younger two-spirit sibling Koveu, cousin Kwe, older sister Niibin, older brother Justice. Nephews, Gramma and Grampa, more aunties, more uncles, more cousins. My heart and mind were aligning. My definition of home and the dictionary definition had aligned. The log home though, is not the physical space that is my “home.” It was in this space where I grew my connection and conscious understanding and relationship with Maamaa Aki, or mother earth.
Maamaa Aki is my dictionary definition of “home.” Getting lost in the woods among plant medicines, going out and collecting sap from the maple trees, gathering around ishkode (fire) and just being. Looking up at Nokomis (grandmother moon) and the vast sky of stars. These are all spaces that my mind and heart can rest.
Placing physical constraints on one’s definition of “home” can cause cognitive dissonance for persons, as it does for me at times. I now live in my own apartment that has yet to feel like “home,” and I question if I’m doing something wrong, if I’m meant to live here. Then I remind myself: my girl, your home is outside. In the woods. In the lakes and rivers. In the plant medicines that you converse with when they’re here. Your home is the dirt that cradles your feet in the spring and summer time. In the rain and snow that kiss your face effortlessly and unwittingly. In lodge among the songs and prayers and sizzling of the Mishomis (grandfather) rocks. Among the sweet laughter of those you care about deeply, and the healing of those hurting. These are your home.
“Home” for some has to have a physical address attached to it. A physical space where their belongings are kept and they return to after work or school. Some individuals are able to create a physical space or make a physical space meet their needs and expectations of what “home” is and feels like, and that is great. For me, it is found in the above listed spaces. First in my mom’s womb, always in her arms, and now always with Maamaa Aki.
My womb is this young growing baby boy’s first home. My steady heartbeat is music to his unborn ears. It is warm, safe and protecting him from the chaos that occurs in this world. He will know that the dictionary definition of “home” doesn’t have to be his definition. I will share and teach him of Maamaa Aki and the way of life that honors her. Honors her and thanks her for all she has and continues to offer us. Maamaa Aki will be his home too.
Ziigwan Frazer is 18 years old and resides in Minnesota. She entered foster care at age 12, and is currently in extended foster care, living on her own. She is expecting a baby boy in June 2019. She earned an associate’s degree in psychology and human services and is currently pursuing a four-year degree double majoring in criminal justice with an emphasis on tribal justice and social work. Her intention is to work with girls and women who are survivors of sex trafficking.
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