When I took her in, it was only supposed to be temporary. But then her mom became homeless, and I was able to give her a stable place to grow up.
(The author of this article wishes to remain anonymous)
This is a true story about motherhood, so naturally it will not be about me.
I was eight when my eldest child was born. I wasn’t there. I didn’t birth her. She was born to another woman — someone who, when I was eight years old, I never thought I would even get to know. I was focusing on coloring inside the lines while this teen mom was making sense of it all. I came from a middle class black family. Hers was broken — between a mother who struggled with addiction and father who didn’t raise her. Nevertheless, we ended living next to each other on Broadstreet Avenue in Detroit.
My eldest child, Christine*, came to live with me the fall of her freshman year of high school, after one Tuesday morning she called me, wheezing, in tears. She was having an asthma attack and she was all alone in someone else’s home. It was where they were living after they got evicted from the house next door to me. When I got to the house, it smelled of cat piss, mentholated cigarettes and marijuana. But for Christine, that combination might as well been a bullet.
I rushed her to the hospital, where they administered a treatment. The doctor came back with a social worker, who was concerned that Christine had no asthma medicine at home. She had no breathing machine, no rescue inhaler, nothing. I took Christine to get all of those things that day, and then I moved her into my house.
She was 14 and I was 23.
I remember the conversation I had with her mom: This arrangement was to be only temporary, until her mom could afford to provide a stable living situation for Christine. One that would not kill her.
That was five years ago.
Last year, Christine graduated from high school and is now attending Harris Stowe State University, an HBCU in St. Louis, on a full scholarship. She wants to be a pharmacist. That said, I am sure she will end up being an educator like me. She will be living in Senegal this summer, and I will have to call and remind her to call her mother.
Needless to say, Christine left my house a changed person. She stopped her destructive behaviors. However, her relationship with her mom suffered tremendously. When Christine moved in with me, I had high expectations for her in order to get these fancy trappings I was willing to provide her. I joked that in exchange for the running water, electricity, clothing and food allowance she got, she had to produce an equal caliber of grades. She saw my petty and matched it.
I was pretty easy to manipulate: You do for you, I do for you. But her mom was not to be moved. And, for the first time, Christine got to see systemic poverty in action from the outside. Now, remember that first conversation I had with her mom? there was a byline provided by yours truly, which implied that mom was to get back on her feet. Instead, her mom got worse. Eventually Christine’s mom and her three brothers ended up in a homeless shelter. Meanwhile, Christine was safe with me. I don’t think she ever got over the guilt associated with being safe and sound while her brothers were in a shelter. I do know she hasn’t forgotten about it. So she avoids her mom all together, holding on to a list of things that her mom has not done for her. A long list.
Christine’s other list, of what mom has done, is very short. Under “taught you how to wash a mean dish” is “she gave you up for a better life.”
So I tell Christine this: If you want to pay me back for all that I have done for you, talk to your mother. How does a woman sacrifice her child to someone else to take care of? Someone so much younger and more successful? How selfless is that? Do you not see the love in that? She had to self-reflect and recognize that she was not enough and her child deserved better.
I could not do that for my children. I am all they got, and all they will ever have. For all of the abuse and neglect that your mom has put you through, releasing you has allowed you to live a life that you never thought you could. You did it! You have shaken off the shackles of cyclical poverty, and now your children will not grow up with the stigma you had, and your mother had. You are now 19 with no kids, a degree within your grasp. Your success has been bought and paid for. I have the receipts.
Let us be clear on one thing: I do not like Christine’s mom. She used me; abused me. This was supposed to be for a couple weeks! But I love her, and I thank God for placing her in that house next door to me. If I harbored any resentment towards that woman, and trust she earned it on several occasions, I would not love Christine properly. I am not willing to risk that. I must confess this: Because people love to tell me that I changed Chris’ life. I know the truth. That mother allowing me to love her child the way that I have has been the best thing that ever happened to me.