Lucky to be a Foster Kid’s Kid

By Ashley Watts

ashley largeBe warned: You may finish this article wishing my mom was yours. That’s okay, I can share. In a sense I already do, with scores of youth from Ohio foster care.

I guess the first thing I should mention is that my mom herself is a former foster kid. She spent 18 years in the system, bouncing from home to home and eventually aging out. Throughout her foster care experience, she was abused and neglected in multiple ways. However, that’s the very thing that pushed her to be the best mother that she could be. Although I was disciplined, my mom never hit or spanked me, because it was important to her not to repeat the history of violence.

My mom goes the extra mile because her own mother barely went the extra centimeter. And everything my mother did was over-the-top because of what her childhood lacked growing up in foster care. Birthdays were to the extreme; renting out amusement parks and hiring clowns and cotton candy makers. School projects were a breeze because no matter how out-of-the-box my ideas were, she made them possible. My school lunches were cut into cute little shapes and always included a note from her.

I’m especially grateful for my mother’s life experiences and determination. I’d say her battle with cancer takes the cake as the most inspirational. I barely remember visiting her in the hospital because I was so young, but I’m told she fought twice as hard for me because if she let cancer win, I’d probably wind up in foster care myself. Once she had a little girl to take care of, she became the Hulk. She picked cancer up, threw it in the dumpster and dropped a few elbows on it before leaving the hospital to recover.

But there were some awkward times. I guess the most different thing about us was the confusing family tree. I had difficulty differentiating between my real family and my mom’s foster families. I didn’t get to spend time with most of my biological family because of the long periods of disconnect between us. In fact, on Grandparent Day at my school, my step-aunts had to come in place of my grandparents. I had a blast but it was weird explaining the situation to my friends. Meanwhile, mom kept close ties with most of her foster families, which made for many exhausting Thanksgiving visits. Most of my friends had two families; I had at least five!

There were other things, too. I remember how my mom suffered and sweated through many summers; she was thrown into a bath of boiling hot water as a baby and it burned over half her body, so she wouldn’t wear shorts. I never thought my mom was any different from the other moms. That changed the moment I hit elementary school. I was bombarded with questions about the different sizes of my mom’s eyes. Oh, I knew the answer alright. I just found it a little difficult explaining the fact that mommy was stabbed in the eye as a kid to my fellow 6 year olds. So I just gave the widely accepted “I dunno” shrug and went on eating my PB&J. I’ve learned a lot from my mom’s stories, mistakes and experiences. They’ve helped me make wise decisions and avoid a lot the impetuousness, drama with friends and other problems people my age go through.

Currently, my mom has taken on the role of foster care super hero and her justice league is the Purple Project. It’s this neat organization where she provides foster youth and foster alumni with resources to help them transition and age out by finding them housing, clothing, school and work opportunities. She’s also the independent living coordinator for Beech Brook, a behavioral health agency that provides life skills for older teens in state care, and is the author of her own autobiography.

I’m sure lots of people assume my life is drastically different from the norm, but I’ve met plenty of kids whose parents are former foster kids and one thing we all agree on — our parents are weird and goofy. That’s not too different from the average child. If anything, I think our parents are extremely supportive and tough on us. To them, we’re more to them than just a child. We’re their children and their chance to show what a parent is supposed to be.

I’d say I’m pretty lucky to be my mom’s kid. I get to help her edit her books and papers, put together workshops with her, travel around the country to different conferences and I learn so many new things every day! Although if you ask her, she’d tell you my most important job is to keep her “hip” and “with it.” It sounds cringe-worthy but it’s actually really funny (although I probably shouldn’t have showed her how to use emojis because she goes wild with them now).

In short: I’ve been on many playdates in my day and I’ve met plenty of moms, and I can confirm that mine has a spot in the Motherly Hall of Fame. My mom is radical, and I am grateful to her.

Published on May 20, 2015 as part of Children’s Rights’ “Fostering the Future” campaign. The opinions expressed herein are those of the blog author and do not necessarily represent the views of Children’s Rights or its employees. Children’s Rights has not verified the author’s account.