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I wanted to be an adoptee

This story was originally posted at the Declassified Adoptee in November, 2011. While it’s not my habit to re-post things I wrote in the past I feel this story illustrates how adoption, or the prospect of adoption, impacted my life as a foster child. 

“Who was that couple who dropped you off?” asked an older girl sitting next to me on the swings at Franklyn Street Park in Nanaimo.

“Uh…,well I live with them,” I respond, digging my feet into the gravel, desperate for a cushion of ambiguity.
“Are they your parents, or what?”

“No, they’re my foster parents,” I said, tightly grabbing the chain.

I wished they were my real parents. They were young and had ambition for their future. I saw them going places and desperately wanted a place in that future, but every so often someone reminded me it was all a façade.

It only took one question to blow the fantasy.

“Why are you in foster care?” said the girl, her face fixed on mine.

I was desperate for an exit but her calm mannerisms and probing interest in my affairs kept me shamefully tethered to the red metal frame.

A photo of Nathaniel from that summer

A photo of Nathaniel from that summer

That previous summer my first foster mother, who lived two blocks from the park, had enrolled me in a summer program there. My new foster parents, who lived on the other side of town, ensured that I remained in the program for the rest of the summer. At the end of every afternoon, like clockwork, they would be there to pick me up in their blue Chevrolet Cavalier.

Revealing the truth of my situation made me vulnerable. It had only been a year, but I had undergone a huge identity shift. I was no longer the “old” Nathaniel who was disruptive, hyper, and chaotic. I was now the “new” Nathaniel who was nice, good and calm.

Talking about my status as a kid in foster care in 1991 meant addressing my shortcomings as a child and student.

Judge me by what I am now, forget everything about who I was, I said to myself.

The previous week my foster father, a straight  23 year old man visited every record store in town in a quest to locate a Nancy Sinatra album I wanted. “Do you have ‘These Boots are Made for Walkin’’ by Nancy Sinatra?” he asked each cashier without a hint of embarrassment.

He and my foster mother stood up for me, protected me, and loved me. When people referred to me as their son I wouldn’t correct them – nor would they.

They fought with my social workers to get me a new bike; they bought me new clothes, drove me to school every day and even mused about getting me braces. “If kids ask you what happened to your teeth you can just say you lost a fight with a lawnmower!” said my foster mother with pride.

Although my social workers me as a foster kid in their notebooks, it wasn’t an identity I clung to. I saw myself as part of a new family unit the foster kid label s a necessary and unpleasant step toward my goal of family stability.

My plans were derailed when their marriage ended and I went on to live with my foster mother. Eventually that placement broke down and I bounced off to yet another home.

I thought the world revolved around me blamed myself for the breakdown. I felt intense anger and grief over the separation. In her status report my childcare worker noted my struggle with loss, anger, and confusion.

“To come to terms with his losses, Nathaniel will need to attend to his feelings about his relationship with his foster parents and process his change from extreme attachment to extreme separation from his foster mother,” she wrote.

Aside from a few board games and a record that I liked, school was the only thing I had left from that “golden era” of family, stability and hope. My new foster parents and social worker wanted to move me to a school closer to my new placement, to their practical reality of who I was and where I belonged.

“If we, as professionals, have Nathaniel’s best interests in mind, we will allow him to complete, perhaps his happiest year of school life, at Chase River Elementary School,” wrote my grade six teacher in a letter to my social worker.

My request to stay at Chase River is one of the few things I said that resonated with my social workers. “My friends are there,” I said in an attempt to mask my desperation for familiarity with a facade of childlike enthusiasm for friendship.

Eighteen months and four homes after my summer at Franklyn Street Park, it was up to me to maintain any links with my past.

To that end I took two GMC “goldfish” city buses to school and back every day. I paid the 75 cent fare with a book of light blue bus stamps provided by the British Columbia Ministry of Children and Families.

“Is this seat taken?” asked a smartly dressed woman of perhaps 80 years who ignored the many empty seats in favour of the aisle seat next to me. Perhaps it’s her wisdom of age or my dazed, dejected expression, but she lent a wise and intuitive voice to my grief that I thought invisible to others.

“I was young once like you, many years ago.” she said in a flat almost inaudible tone. Her clipped British mannerisms belied her forward observations. “I was alone,” she said looking straight ahead, but talking directly to me. “So I turned to God.”


About Nathaniel Christopher (4 Articles)
I had a cat named Khan.

6 Comments on I wanted to be an adoptee

  1. I feel that there are a lot of similarities between the predicament of foster children and that of adoptees in that both are experiencing some level of loss of parents or departure from the conventional narrative of childhood and family. Both are raised by non-biological institutions in part or in whole. I remember the surprise of a classmate who was a teenager in foster care upon finding out that I was an adoptee and physically abused, only in an adoptive household instead of a string of broken placements. I remember that he too expressed to me the belief that if he could just have a stable home an entire new world would be open to him instead of the chronic longing for permanency.

    The fairytale of adoption is a nice myth that’s supposedly at the end of every tale of childhood parental loss however long or short. And, for some people adoption is definitely a grounding for their identity and a springboard “into a better life”. So, I can’t give any cohesive reaction for either system. Also, because the time I spent in foster care was while I was very young. But, I will say I related to this piece in that I too felt alone for a very long time. And longed for a family to relate to and be part of. Preferably a stable forward thinking and going one,as I was feeling absolutely no affiliation with my abusers/adopters, who for most of my life felt like captors until adulthood.

    The court mandated therapist assigned to my adoptive family, after I had ran away to avoid abuse, gave me the option as a 14yr old to enter foster care (something I don’t think she should have done; i think she simply should have reported that the abuse was continuing without asking for a 14 yr old’s judgement). But, at the time I decided against it fearing that a known evil was better than potential random draw of a new one and told her not to report the continuing abuse. I think because I feared experiencing a more visible impermanence, which is what it sounds like you’re talking about.

    But, I’m digressing hugely. This was an interesting read.

    • Hey Sophia! Thank you for sharing your story! I poked around your blog and agree that life is complicated, especially our life narratives. Both adoptees and foster kids challenge established conventions of family which often makes our life story awkward conversation in “polite” company.

      When I was growing up most adopted children I knew lived outside of the realm of foster care which meant they didn’t receive regular visits from social workers, or government mandated clothing vouchers, and they didn’t have to explain why their field-trip forms were signed by a different name every three months. They could, as far as I could see, pass as “regular kids”. I never considered how loss of their heritage, name, or cultural identity may adversely impact them – at the age of 10 the world revolved around me. I was, for the most part, more than happy to shed my identity as a problematic welfare child from the bad end of town and I did not welcome any reminders of who I was or where I came from.

      As an adult, however, I came to realization that both adoptees and foster kids grieve for the loss of parents. When other kids dream about what kind of friends or partners they’d like to have many foster kids and adoptees imagine their ideal parents.

      Thanks for your comment, and digression!

  2. Thank you for giving a little bit of insight into what a foster child feels like when facing the loss of multiple families. Great post.

  3. Yes, as a closed adoptee in reunion, I’m really interested in the experiences of foster children, many of whom seem to have to reexperience loss and abandonment over and over. I love that you remember the bus experience as a bright moment in an otherwise dreary day! Thanks!

  4. I am an adoptee but had 2 foster brothers growing up. Both were babies when they came to live with us and after 18+ months we were told they went back to their “family.” I have NEVER forgotten them, never stopped thinking about my “brothers” and never got over the loss of my brothers. Denny & Jeremy….I love you ALWAYS!!!

  5. I’m a foster parent and an avid reader of this blog – I am SO glad the foster perspective is coming into play here and Nathaniel, I love your perspective and way of putting it – thanks for sharing for all of my kids who can’t share their stories yet.

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