Part One-Teenage Angst and the Burning Question “Where is my Real Mom?”
By: Christine Smith McFarlane
I had teenage angst just like any other teenager, but the angst I felt inside was often something I felt no one around me could understand. While living in my third foster home in which I was placed by the Roman Catholic Children’s Aid Society, I felt an emptiness inside me that I couldn’t quite explain. It gnawed at me on a continuous basis, leaving me wondering, would this emptiness I felt ever go away or would it slowly kill me?
I lived in a small town in southern Ontario where I obviously stood out- a brown face in a sea of white faces. I had transferred from the automotive capital of southern Ontario- Windsor to a small town where I knew no one. It was in the middle of my grade eight year, and I remember thinking “what a time to transfer”. The racism was there, but not always noticeable to those around me. But I felt it, and I experienced it.
The racism came out subtly when no one wanted to pick me to be a part of their team when it came to team sports, even if I was the last one to be picked. It came out when no one would sit with me at lunch time, and the only person who would take the time to talk with me was my teacher. Because no one would talk to me in my age group, I would hang out with younger students. I found they were less discriminating and more accepting of who I was. I would get teased for that, so I often found myself walking with the teacher on yard duty when it came to recess time instead of socializing with the other kids. I would walk in companionable silence with whatever teacher was on yard duty and I felt safe. I sought out attention from the school principal by telling him I was sick and needed to go home. He was a short little balding man, maybe five feet and one-inch-tall, but he would put his arm around me, smile and say “Christine, its ok, you’re okay.”
But even those words couldn’t cure a lonely heart or the ache I felt inside. I would start to cry and tell him “I can’t stay; I want to go home!” I’m sure my foster mom at the time didn’t know the real reason why I wanted to be at home instead of school. She never really questioned me as to why, she just accepted that I wanted to be at home. She would give permission for me to come back home for the day, as long as I promised that I would go back to school the next day.
Don’t get me wrong here, I excelled at school but I always knew that I was the different one everywhere I went. I would go to sleep at night where in the deep recesses of my mind I would ask myself repeatedly “Is my mom alive? Will I ever find her? And will she want to see me?”
I graduated from grade eight and went to the local high school. My angst grew in leaps and bounds. After a comment by a fellow student that “you are ugly and fat,” I began to restrict my food intake to the point that I passed out in gym class while exercising, and at lunchtimes the principal of my school would be watching me from a distance as I sat with a small group of people, and pretended to eat. Mr. Chisholm would come up to me and say “Christine, would you like an orange?” I’d say “sure” and I would go as far as peeling it while he was standing there over me but the orange would never pass my lips. I would grab a napkin when I thought no one was looking and quietly fold the pieces of orange into it and it would make its way to the garbage along with my other food. My foster parents didn’t know what to make of my desire to not eat. But God knows, I know they tried to understand. They would ask me “What is it that is bothering you so much, Christine,” and “You have to eat, not eating is not going to help you any.” They called in my social worker from the Children’s Aid Society to talk to me, they made me see the town’s doctor, and eventually I went to see a psychologist, but it still didn’t stop me from not eating or self- harming by taking laxatives, milk of magnesia or the water pills that I found in the medicine cabinet. My angst had become bigger than myself.
When I graduated from high school, freedom came upon me in many ways. I had been accepted back in my hometown of Windsor at the local college for the Journalism-Print program. As part of my freedom, despite the outcry of my foster parents, I tried to re-ignite my failed relationship with my adoptive father. I would call him, and he would call me. I received letters from him, and somehow I thought that would solve the angst I felt inside. It didn’t, it deepened it.
Upon being accepted to college, I was also accepted at an Independent Living Home for teenagers transitioning out of care. I still remember my first day at the home. My social worker, Lynn had driven me from the little town I lived in to the city. I remember the key she had to the home making its clicking noise as the tumbler unlocked and the door swung open. On the floor, was a letter addressed to me. Lynn picked it up, and in disgust said “oh it’s from your adoptive father.” She also didn’t understand why I wanted to make amends with my adoptive father. I wish I had listened to my foster parents and her back in those days, but I didn’t. I thought I knew what was best for me, and one of those things was getting back in touch and finding out why, did my adoptive parents hate me so much to give me up and keep my sister.
Not long after that, I decided to try and find my birth mom. I was tired of not knowing what she looked like. I was tired of not knowing if she was alive or not, and most of all tired of riding the buses in the city and seeing other native women and wondering “is that my mom?”
At the time, I didn’t know that my mother lived entirely in another province. I guess my hopes had been that she would just magically appear on my doorstep, open her arms and take me back, but that wasn’t the case at all. I had to go to the very same Roman Catholic Children’s Aid Society I was in the care of, and talk to a worker by the name of Kathy. Kathy was the worker kids went to when they wanted to find their parents. I remember timidly going into her office and sitting on a cold hard plastic chair and saying “I’m here to search for my mom.” And I remember Kathy looking at me and saying “It’s not going to be easy.”
TO BE CONTINUED…….