This is the story of Maria, Robyn and Freddie. It is a cautionary tale of foster care, attachments and understanding trauma. Every child in the foster care system has a story. But we forget, sometimes, that the child’s story if often just a piece of the puzzle. Let’s start at the beginning.
Freddie, age 4, adored his mother, Maria.
Maria, a single mother, lived for her only son.
However, Maria came from a very hard place, and had never acquired the necessary skills to overcome her past.
Abused when she was 7 by an uncle, she lived her entire life stalked by guilt and shame. No one believed her when she told.
So she stopped telling.
And it kept happening.
Instead, to dull the pain, she began drinking at the age of 14. By her 19th birthday, Maria lived alone in a tiny apartment over the donut shop where she worked.
Every night she used alcohol to make the pictures in her head go away; desperately trying to drown out the voices that whispered she was worthless. Somehow, she was able to work the minimum wage job as donut cutter, despite her nightly habit. The owner, a distant relative, felt sorry for her, and had rented her the apartment for half the usual rent.
She dated different men, especially if they were buying.
Freddie had not been planned. However, when she found out she was pregnant, Maria became ecstatic. “Finally,” she thought. “Someone who will love me no matter what!” Unsure of Freddie’s father, she kept her pregnancy a secret while she could.
Maria joined AA while she carried Freddie, determined to get clean and be a good mommy. Holding on by Teeth and Toenails, she found an uneasy sobriety. One Day at a Time became her mantra.
Freddie came into the world howling his arrival and Maria felt happiness for the first time since her childhood. Even the baby’s chronic colic did not faze the new mother. Night after night, Maria rocked him, while he screamed, comforting him until his tummy quieted down so that he could fall asleep. Tiny tendrils of trust began to sprout, as Freddie built an attachment to the person who fed him, changed him…protected him.
The little family lived above the donut shop for three years. Maria shared babysitting favors with her neighbor so that they could both work. Freddie cried every time his mother left him and squealed in delight when she returned to pick him up.
Then Maria met Roger.
Roger, charming and thoughtful, doted on Maria and Freddie. For Maria, he was the prince charming for which she had wished. An auto salesman, Roger enjoyed a modicum of success. He lavished Maria with gifts, nice dinners and trips. She fell hard.
Maria tried to ignore the fact that Roger could devour a bottle of wine at dinner. He would insist that she join him in only one glass. Resisting at first, Maria hated the look of disappointment in his eyes, so she eventually gave in and had one glass.
After a couple of months, at Roger’s prodding, Maria and Freddie moved into his house. Freddie had his own room and a big back yard in which to play. But the little boy liked it better over the donut shop. He liked Mommy better there. Things had begun to change when they moved in with Roger. Maria and Roger drank a lot and fought a lot. Sometimes, they would go out to drink. Despite the fact that he was only 3 years old, they sometimes left him alone. Those nights were so scary. He would hide under the bed with Snowy, his stuffed lamb until he heard them come home.
But those nights weren’t nearly as scary as the nights Roger would hurt his Mommy.
A pattern begin to emerge between the couple. They would begin drinking as soon as Roger returned from work. Something would upset him (the dinner wasn’t ready, the house wasn’t as clean as it should be). First came the yelling. Then came the hitting. In the beginning, they would wait until Freddie had gone to bed to begin fighting. Now, it was if Freddie no longer even existed. The little boy witnessed Roger twisting Maria’s arms behind her back or punching her in the face. Frightened by the violence, Freddie would run upstairs, crawl under his bed, and hold his little hands over his ears in an effort to drown out the screams of his Mommy.
One night, the screaming got so loud the police came. The officers observed Maria’s nose and lip bleeding from a recent blow. They arrested Roger.
Maria, frightened of what would happen to her and Freddie without Roger, bailed him out and refused to press charges.
And so the circus continued. Maria continued drinking more and more. Roger continued abusing her. Eventually, he also turned his anger and violence towards Freddie. Maria tried to protect her little boy, but eventually gave in to her own escape. For his fourth birthday, Maria was in the Emergency Room with a broken arm.
After several police visits, the local Child Welfare agency was called. Freddie was taken into custody and placed in the foster home of Robyn Miller. Maria, unable to reconcile her own downward spiral, didn’t even attend the court hearing that would decide Freddie’s status.
Freddie became lost.
Grief, over the loss of his mother, consumed him. Robotic in mannerisms, he entered the foster care system. In his mind, his mother was dead. He knew in his heart, somehow, that he would never see her again. He was no longer Freddie, the love of her life: the one who rocked him when he was sick, hugged him when he was sad, and kissed his cheek every night.
Now he was simply
A foster child.
(Part 2 continues the story)