When I gave birth to my daughter, Lydia, one of the first people I called to tell was Tamara, who adopted two of my older sons from foster care.
Chubs and Little Hector ended up adopted because I was addicted to crack for many years. When Chubs was 2, Children’s Services (ACS) came to my house and took him. I visited him two times. After that, I didn’t go back. I knew I couldn’t raise Chubs because my life wasn’t stable and I didn’t believe I would ever stop using drugs.
The Mom I Couldn’t Be
After Chubs had been in care a few years, I started getting to know Tamara, his foster parent. Tamara and I got along because she’s a loving, friendly person. She told me she loved Chubs and would take care of him. I went to family court and voluntarily terminated my rights so she could adopt Chubs.
A year later, I got pregnant with Little Hector. I didn’t even try to raise Little Hector. I gave him up to Tamara as soon as he was born.
I felt truly blessed that Tamara came into my life and became a mother to my boys. She let me know how the boys were doing and we built a relationship with each other. I knew she wanted them to be safe, have a good education and have a close family.
When I was pregnant with Lydia, I became determined to raise her myself. Once again, I stopped using drugs and I found a stable place to live with my husband, Hector. After she was born, Tamara supported me. Every other Sunday, Tamara stopped by to check on me and Lydia and let me see my sons. Tamara even brought Lydia to her house so her husband and my sons could see her. Tamara cared about my family and me.
It wasn’t long after Lydia born that I was using again, though. After 20 years of getting high, I couldn’t just kick the habit.
This time, when ACS came to my door, I called Tamara immediately. I asked her to take Lydia—but only as a foster mom. She lived with Tamara and Mr. Sanchez for almost three years.
At times, Tamara and I had tension. Several times she brought Lydia to visits wearing clothes that were too small for her, or without her hair combed, and the toys I gave Lydia often got broken in Tamara’s home.
I wondered if Lydia was getting all the love she needed. Tamara had a lot of kids living in the home. When I complained to the ACS worker, she just told me, “Sylvia, you worry too much. Tamara is taking good care of her and Lydia will be home soon.”
But overall, I trusted and loved Tamara and became got close. Sometimes she brought Lydia and my sons to my house. The first visit was one Sunday after church. Tamara came over with all three kids.
Another time, Tamara stopped by and invited me to McDonald’s to eat with Lydia and the boys. She bought me a cheeseburger, fries, soda and even an apple pie. While we watched the children play in the playroom, Tamara told me her family was falling in love with Lydia and that the boys were very protective of her.
Tamara also invited Hector and me to Lydia’s birthday party at McDonald’s. I was so happy. The day of the party I was a little uncomfortable. Watching my sons play arcade games, I truly felt at a distance from my children. But I took a lot of pictures and Tamara assured me that everything would be OK.
After everyone ate, we walked Tamara and the kids to the car and said our goodbyes. Hector was sad; I could see it in his face. It hurt but we were happy to have been included.
‘We’ll Stay Connected’
My relationship with my sons blossomed, too. When Tamara’s husband came on Sunday afternoons to pick up Lydia from her weekend visits, he brought Chubs and Little Hector. I hugged and kissed them every time I saw them.
I felt happy that they were with Tamara and Mr. Sanchez, because they gave them a life I never could have provided. I also felt grateful that Tamara and Mr. Sanchez allowed me to talk with my boys and helped them understand that I had a problem but never meant to hurt them.
Tamara told me she loved my family and me, and that no matter what, when Lydia returned home, we would stay connected. She promised to become my godmother at church, and I felt that she was the first person to ever act like a mother to me. But since Lydia came home six months ago, my relationship with Tamara has not been the same.
Right after Lydia came home, we were all going through changes. Lydia was acting up. She was scared that I’d leave her and was on top of me all the time. Even when I was tired, she had to be right there, begging for my attention. At night, Lydia had nightmares of seeing Tamara and getting stuck in her foster home. Lydia told me she missed her brothers and wanted them to be home with us.
She also seemed to want me to prove my love by buying her little things. She always wanted something—a toy or TV dinners or McDonald’s. I was constantly explaining that we had to make our money stretch.
When she started school, her behavior became out of control. She was hitting other kids and even spitting in their faces. Every day I told her, “Lydia, please be good today. I don’t want to get a call from the teacher.” But she kept having tantrums and getting into fights.
Once I asked her, “Where did you learn to spit in people’s faces?” She told me, “At Tamara’s house. She pulls the boys by their ears and yells at them and they cry and have to stand in the corner.” That got me angry inside. I didn’t know what to think.
Surprised and Flattered
Tamara called to tell me that Chubs had also been acting up and disrespecting her since Lydia came home. Chubs had asked Tamara, “Why did Little Mama get to go home and not me?” I worried for Chubs. I didn’t want him to feel that I love Lydia more than him, and I felt guilty that I didn’t fight for him like I did with Lydia.
Tamara asked if Lydia and I would come to her house to spend the weekend so I could talk to my son. I was surprised and flattered that she called me for help.
Was She in Danger?
But my concerns about Tamara only grew in the months after Lydia came home. We were mandated to attend family therapy, and we talked to the therapist about Lydia’s nightmares and her behavior. She told him how she and the boys were treated in Tamara’s home.
At our last visit, the therapist asked Lydia, “Would it be OK if I just talked to Mommy and Daddy alone?” Lydia sat outside and the therapist closed his office door. He told Hector and me not to feel offended or upset by the question. I felt nervous as the therapist asked us, “Do you think Lydia was abused or neglected while she was in foster care? Or even sexually abused?”
My heart sunk with sadness that the therapist believed Lydia might have been harmed. I grew up in an adoptive home where I was physically and sexually abused. Even though I knew Tamara had not hurt my children the way I’d been hurt, I felt sad and overwhelmed.
I told the therapist, “Tamara did neglect her, because her clothes were too small, her hair was not done properly and her fingernails were always dirty.”
Hector added, “We complained to ACS and they did nothing.”
Then the therapist asked about sexual or physical abuse. I said, “I’d have to ask Little Mama. All I know is that she misses her brothers and wants them out of the other house.” I didn’t know if she felt her brothers really were in danger, or if she said those things because she thought ACS might send the boys to our house if they were in danger.
When Lydia came back and started playing with the toys again, the therapist asked her, “How did Tamara treat you?” “Tamara always screamed at me and sent me to be without dinner if I didn’t want to eat,” Lydia said.
“Can you draw a picture of how you feel being away from your brothers?” he asked.
Lydia drew a sad face with tears. I started to cry. “It’s OK, Mommy,” Lydia told me. The therapist ended the session then, telling us that he would let the ACS worker know that he had some concerns about Lydia’s care. I felt relieved that the therapist showed concern about Lydia’s well being, but confused about what Lydia’s comments really meant.
My Past Rushed Up At Me
After that visit, I felt angry and depressed remembering the abuse I went through in my adoptive home. As a child, I felt that I was just thrown away because nobody loved me. I didn’t want any of my kids to go through the agony and humiliation of feeling that no one cared about them.
Thinking about my children’s sadness at being separated, all of my feelings of powerlessness and failure came back. Just as I couldn’t stop my adoptive parents from hurting my brother, I felt I couldn’t protect my children from any pain they felt with Tamara. I felt useless as a mother. I had no control over what happened in my sons’ lives because I’d been unable to say no to drugs.
That night, I prayed that my sons could come home to me and I that I could be a mother to them again. It took me a long time to calm down and remind myself that I truly believed that Tamara was taking care of them the best she can.
Betrayed by Everyone
The next day, my husband told me that Tamara had called and was very upset. I asked, “What happened?” ACS had called Tamara and told her that she was going to be under investigation because I made an allegation that Lydia was neglected and abused in her home.
I was very upset. It’s not that I trusted ACS to keep anything confidential, but I did not expect that my concerns would be repeated to Tamara like that.
Hector said that he told Tamara I’d never said that she should be investigated or that Lydia had been abused. But Tamara told him that ACS advised her to change her phone number and stop having any contact with me or Lydia. Tamara said she was going to do that immediately.
At that moment I felt hurt and betrayed by everybody—our family therapist, ACS, and especially Tamara. Tamara and I had a friendship, a real relationship. She was like a mother to me. She gave me advice and moral support when Lydia was in foster care. Even though I needed to talk about my fears and frustration with the therapist, I didn’t want to hurt Tamara.
That day, I called Tamara’s house and left a message with her daughter. But Tamara changed her number and never called me back.
I could understand why Tamara was angry—I know I’d be furious if I thought she put ACS on my case—but I thought she should have asked for my side of the story. She’d so often showed me how to act maturely that I was surprised by her behavior.
Hurt and Sad
The next week, she and Mr. Sanchez were supposed to come to Lydia’s first communion, but they didn’t come. They also didn’t come to Lydia’s birthday party a month later. Lydia and I felt really hurt and sad.
Tamara had made a promise that she would be there for us. It had taken a lot of bravery for me to ask her to be our godmother. She and Mr. Sanchez had even promised us money to buy our first communion dresses, crowns and shoes. Lydia was upset every time we practiced for the communion in the house.
Lydia asked me to take down all the pictures of her brothers that we had hung up in the living room. She told me, “I don’t want any bad memories in the house, and I’m mad at them.”
“It wasn’t the boys’ fault. And no matter what, they’re you’re brothers,” I told her. “But if taking down the pictures would make you more comfortable, I’ll do it.”
We put pictures of Lydia in the frames. But I told Lydia that, when she’s ready, we can put the boys up again.
Trying to Stay Calm
I tried to stay calm and speak well of Tamara in front of Lydia, but privately, Tamara’s actions blew my mind. I felt that it was crazy that she didn’t speak to us. I badly wanted for us to stay connected. I didn’t have anybody like a mother figure in my life besides her. I miss talking with her. I missed her hugs. When someone gives you a hug, you know if they mean it sincerely. Her hugs were so close I felt loved.
The worst part was that Lydia felt rejected by the woman who cared for her for three years and by her brothers. She couldn’t even talk to them on the phone.
I told myself that our three years were a gift, but that maybe I was not meant to have a relationship with my sons. But inside, I wished that Lydia and I could spend time with them again.
Hoping for Closure
For a while now I’ve been thinking of sending Tamara a letter and pictures so I could show her how Lydia has grown and tell her what really happened with the therapist. I would tell her, “I miss you and wish you would contact us. Lydia feels abandoned.” I’d also ask her to help me find a solution so Lydia could see Tamara and her brothers.
But I’m waiting for Lydia to be officially discharged from care. ACS told Tamara not to have contact with me; I don’t want to get her in trouble, or get in trouble myself, for breaking the rules.
After that day of celebration when my time with ACS is all over, I think I can reach out to Tamara. At minimum, I hope that Lydia can have some closure. She never even got to say goodbye.
Maybe One Day
One day recently Lydia was looking out her bedroom window. I asked her, “What are you looking at?”
“Tamara’s car,” she said. We saw a few boys get out of a white car that looked like Tamara’s. For a moment, I was almost excited. Then we saw an elderly man get out and we knew it wasn’t her after all.
I picked up Lydia and gave her a hug and kiss and told her, “It’s not them.” She had a sad look on her face so I tried to reassure her, saying, “Maybe one day we can see them again.”