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Mother and Child Reunion
Quotesia Johnson
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My parents met in the Jefferson Housing Project in Harlem, fell in love, and had a bright and talented little girl on January 28, 1993. But they did not stay together long. At first, my mother took care of me during the week, and my father would take me on the weekend. By the time I turned 2, my father had sole custody of me.

Although I talked to my mom on the phone once in a while, I never truly understood what was going on. I felt like I was the main reason that my mother was gone. I cried when other kids teased me, saying that my mother gave me away because she hated me.

I believed it at that time. I had younger brothers and a sister, with different fathers, and she took them with her when she left my dad and me. I felt like maybe she did not need me, maybe she left for a good reason, maybe I was too bad of a child for anyone to love. These thoughts introduced a lot of stress and anxiety.

I always wanted to have my mother in my life. I used to envy the girls at the mall with their mothers having fun. I used to cry myself to sleep thinking that I was the cause of my parents breaking up. I wondered what it would be like if I were never born, or if I killed myself.

In happier moods, I imagined mother-daughter time: cooking together, learning how to sew, doing our hair, hanging out, shopping, talking, just doing what average mothers and daughters did.

I did have my aunt as a mother figure in my life. She did some of those motherly things with me, but her main concern was her twin sons. I felt loved, but it was not the same as having a mother I could call my own.

A Family Without Her

Early on, I grew accustomed to living with my father, aunt, and grandfather. Then my grandfather died on my father’s birthday. I was 14 and just about to graduate from middle school. The family took it hard but I took it the hardest. I respected my grandfather more than I respected anyone else. He loved me unconditionally, but was stern with me when I did something wrong.

At this point, I only saw my mother once or twice a year. The stress and anxiety of missing her turned to anger and hostility after the passing of my grandfather. Why should I care about doing well, if nobody was there to see?

I started fighting and stealing phones on the subway, and I joined a gang. Gangbanging took the stress away because I was not holding in my emotions anymore, I was taking them out on other people. If people gave up on me and stopped caring about me then nothing would matter. This thought was comforting.

Some of my “friends” stole from my aunt, and she was so mad she kicked me out of the house. This forced my father to do something he did not want to do: move me into a shelter for teenagers. While I was in the shelter, I called my mother.

I told her I was no longer in the custody of my father, hoping she would rush to my aid. She did not. My father was the only one to come and visit me in the shelter. This made me lean toward my father even more; he showed that he cared and would stand behind me no matter what. I started to doubt that my mother and I would ever have the relationship I yearned for.

After a short period, I moved to a rapid assessment program (RAP) in Brooklyn, where I stayed for six months. During that time, my mother called me four times but never visited. She would ask the same things every time we talked: Are you all right? Are they treating you good? Are you eating? Are you OK? My father, meanwhile, was coming to see me every weekend.

Finally, the court sent me to a residential treatment center (RTC). While I was there, I stopped going AWOL, limited my cursing, and improved my attitude.

Giving Her a Chance

One Sunday while I was living at the RTC, I went to church. The pastor said, “Honor thy mother and thy father and your days will be longer on this earth.” I decided to try contacting my mother again. That way I’d never have to ask, “What if I heard my mother’s side of the story and it helped me put the pieces of the puzzle together?” or “What if all this time my mother wanted to have a relationship with me and just didn’t know how to go about it?” or “What if the truth comes out and I feel so bad that I never considered giving my mother a chance?” I realized that friends come and go but you only get one biological mother and father.

I sent my mother a friend request on MySpace when I was 16. I did not know what to ask her, so I did not send a message. She accepted me as a friend, and we would write each other from time to time, mostly just to say hello. No real conversation, but it was a start.

A few years later, I joined Facebook, and immediately looked my mother up. Seeing her pictures of my siblings halfway grown put a smile on my face, but also brought tears to my eyes. The feud between my parents had kept me from a relationship with my siblings, too. My mother’s page had pictures of family members who I did not even know existed. I wondered if I would ever get a chance to meet my family. I also wondered how I would feel if I did.

In August of 2010, my dad picked me up from the RTC and we went to a reunion of people who had lived in the Jefferson projects and people who currently live there. The neighborhood calls it Jefferson Day. Many people were there grilling, dancing, having fun, and reuniting, but I just wanted to see my mother.

Seeing her again after so long seemed like a dream that I didn’t want to be awoken from. My mother is shorter than I am, but otherwise she looks like my twin. I am used to everyone saying I am the spitting image of my father, but I think I look more like her now that I am older. We talked for a long time, and I introduced her to my boyfriend. We took pictures and we talked about how I should come and stay at her house on the weekends to get reacquainted. I accepted the invitation halfheartedly: Our relationship would take some time to heal.

image by YC-Art Dept

Soon after that, my mother posted the pictures of us together on Jefferson Day and made one of them her main profile picture. When I saw that, I thought maybe things could actually be fixed, that she might be ready to take me on as her daughter. We started talking more on Facebook.

Forgiveness, but…

My social worker did a home study of my mother’s apartment and approved weekend passes to go there. Finally, I was ready for my first visit to my mother’s house. I felt liberated as I boarded the home pass van. I also felt nervous wondering what would happen when I walked through the door, wondering if I’d feel accepted.

To my surprise, my mother, sister, and youngest brother gave me a warm welcome. It was the first time I had seen my siblings in three years. My sister looks more like her father than she does our mother. My brother, who was 11, had grown taller than me, and he immediately made me laugh.

But I still felt like I didn’t belong. I understood that these were my siblings and that we had different fathers but I really didn’t know these people who called themselves family. A few memories came to me, but they were like a film’s negative after it’s been exposed. I remained emotionless.

Since then, I have seen my mother every weekend on a home pass. Weekends at my mother’s house seem to fly by. She lets me go out and have fun with my friends, and she gave me a curfew that varies based on my behavior and trustworthiness.

Getting to know her has been surprisingly smooth. We talk about all sorts of things—what has happened in my life, sex, current relationships, what I have accomplished, and a lot more. She seems like she really wants to get to know me. We actually sit down and have full-length discussions. We have not really gone on outings yet, but I believe that will happen soon.

I told her I was angry that she left and did not contact me for all those years. I told her that my anger toward her fueled my rebellion. She did not seem surprised. She said that she was young and stupid and she felt that since my father was older he would do a better job raising me. She apologized for not being in my life for so long, and I felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. Until she said that, I had felt like I was a burden and that was why my mother gave me up.

I forgave her because I did not want to hold a grudge. I still do not really understand what went wrong between my mother and my father, but I have both of them in my life right now, so I am not going to stress myself out about it anymore. I figure let the past stay in the past so that I can have a more productive future.

Choosing Foster Care

After we had been visiting for about three months, my mother said that if I wanted to leave the RTC, I could come and live with her. I was 18. I felt like my mother cared, and I felt great. It felt like she was actually giving us a second chance.

Still, I told her I needed time to think about it. I had wanted to be with her all this time, but when I actually got a chance to have my dream come true I felt uncomfortable.

I wondered if I’d still receive foster care benefits if I lived with her. I want to have my own apartment and go to college for free. I also felt a little old to start living with my mother.

The adults at the RTC thought I should move in with her on a trial basis. But in the end, I chose to live with a foster mother instead. It’s not that I don’t want to live with my mother; it is just that I feel already grown. Almost everything I once needed my mother for, I have already found my own answer to the hard way.

As I thought more about it, I realized I don’t trust her, and to this day I still don’t understand her decisions that altered my life. Listening to her might be a problem because I barely know this woman who gave birth to me, and I make my own rules now.

Balance

Now I get weekend passes to see my mother and day passes for my father and I live with a good foster mother, Ms. Watson. I feel like my life is better balanced now. A piece of me is no longer missing because my mother is back in my life.

I can’t say everything with her is fine, though. I’m glad my mother seems to realize that the things she’s done really affected me, but it will take more time to heal those wounds. My father has been my rock and has proven that his love for me is unconditional. Then there’s my foster mother, a person who chose to bring me into her family as if I was one of her own children. I can stay with Ms. Watson until I age out of care, which is comforting. Although this looks like a very complicated combination of people, they all benefit me in some way.

I gave healing and the process of forgiveness a chance, and I got my mother back. Though I do not live with her, I know she is only a phone call or train ride away if I ever need to talk to her about anything.

I no longer blame all my fighting, stealing, drinking, smoking, and gang activity on the anger I had towards my mother. I know that I have to take full responsibility for my actions and not use anyone as my scapegoat. I only have one mother. Having her back in my life is still a little unbelievable. I haven’t forgotten how it hurt to be abandoned, but, still, I’m grateful.

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(FCYU-2013-07-24)

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