The Little Things That Elude Foster Youths

I was 25 years old when I experienced my first flat tire. I had only been driving for four years at that point since, in my day, foster children weren’t allowed to get licenses. I got my driver’s license at age 21, and was only able to get a car because my last foster mother co-signed a car loan on a very nice and reliable used car.

Now, I didn’t grow up around cars. I never saw anyone fix one, and like a lot of foster kids, I had relied on public transportation to get around. So when I got my first car, I just relied on what the mechanics told me to do: Service it every such-and-such miles, keep an up-to-date AAA card on me, and pray nothing goes wrong on the road.

Being a recent grad with a monstrous student loan debt, I couldn’t afford major car repairs despite holding down a full-time job during the day and part-time on the weekends.

Thankfully, I was driving on city streets and near a gas station when I felt a sudden sloping shift and heard the ‘thud-thumping’ sound that only flat tires can make. I pulled into the local 76 station and called AAA. They would be on their way in 30 minutes.

In that 30 minutes, a kind stranger offered to help me with my flat. This confused me. How could he help? He asked if I had a spare. I said I didn’t. Now he seemed confused. “You don’t have a spare in your car?” he asked in a way that indicated he was onto my background. As if he knew I wasn’t raised right.

That’s when I got heated and cut the conversation short. “Triple A is on the way. Thanks though,” I waved him off as I turned and walked away. In the corner of my eye, the young gentleman – barely out of high school – glanced at my trunk as if he knew something I didn’t. He opened his mouth but didn’t say anything because of my new body language. I was no longer open to his help.

When AAA arrived, I had the same conversation except this time the driver asked me to open the trunk. I obliged, thinking it’s his protocol to ask and I was secretly proud that I had cleaned the car out the day before, so there was nothing in my trunk but a couple binders and a makeup bag. “See, no tire,” I said, matter-of-factly.

That’s when the driver upended the trunk base by lifting it up from the corners, revealing a donut and a jack on the side. I was too stunned to be embarrassed. The driver said nothing as he went to work.

Standing there, I silently cursed my lot in life as it took every ounce of self-control not to scream or cry or overreact to this oversight. But the rash of anger seeped in and was building. I called my former foster mother later that evening to ask her why she never told me about the spare in the trunk.

“Everyone knows that, Georgette,” she said nonchalantly as if she forgot who she was talking to. “There’s always a spare in every car, but you have to make sure it’s maintained.”

It’s embarrassing, but it needs to be said, that I’ve had a lot of little moments like those since then. From not knowing how to clean an oven, to storing food properly, to cooking, to finding out that I shouldn’t be placing bras in the dryer – needless to say, I’m still behind on basic life skills.

Independent living programs can do a lot, but it’s the little things that can only be taught and learned through parenting. I wish there was a book on how to be a human, but until that day, I – like a lot of former foster youth – will just have to continue playing catch up with the rest of the population.

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About Georgette Todd 26 Articles
Georgette Todd is the author of “Foster Girl, A Memoir,” which includes court documents and chronicles her childhood abuse and teenage years in California's foster care system. Her latest book, “Life after Foster Care, 100 Things to Know,” will be available on Amazon beginning March 15, 2017. If you'd like to have her speak or give a training, you can contact her at


  1. Having read your book, I must disagree with some of the comments. Having a parent who doesn’t share all the tips and tricks or having children that were not raised to take care of themselves, is far different from being a foster child. As for access to media and technology, foster children are far from the cutting edge. Comparing entitled or privileged youth (who don’t know how work hard or to take care of things because their parent have had the means to hire help) to foster children (who often carry all of their belongings in 1 bag, have little or no access to cash, and have been moved from place to place without a consistent care giver) is offensive. If we cannot name the issue, we cannot mitigate it.

  2. “Playing catch up with the rest of the population” should not, and is not, something solely akin to foster kids. Any kid growing up that is not born with a manual on how to succeed in the matters described in the article would need mentoring or parenting to “learn more about it”. There are parents some basic things and parents who don’t teach their kids what they need to know (like spare tires and jacks in car trunk). The only point I am really trying to make is not to unnecessarily attach any unlearned knowledge(s) to having been foster-cared-for.

  3. I too raised foster children and my own. Both have difficulty with “the little things”. 🙂 I hear you about needing to keep these “little” things in mind tho…but sometimes I think it’s more about our current culture than anything else. Kids lost in social media on a daily basis dont help with yard work, painting, cleaning the car, changing oil and tires. We Americans are so busy we just hire somebody else to do it. The young twenty somethings don’t have the cash to do that so they are stuck so to speak. They havent seen it done. 🙁 So it’s not just foster kids per se. Your not as different as you might feel.

  4. Thank you for sharing this, Georgette. I am a Foster parent and need to keep things like this in mind. As Foster parents, we do our best, but always wish we could or had done more. Thank for this reminder of little every-day things that it can’t be taken for granted that Foster children know.

  5. This was and continues to be my case. I am 23 years old and still learning the basics. This is why as a former foster youth who works with current foster youth I have stated classes that teach the things that I wish I knew.

  6. While all of the facts and statistics about foster youth and Transition Age Youth outcomes are key and essential, Georgette’s article is the most heart rendering, real and intimate story of the multitude of moments that our foster youth face daily as they navigate their way through life. Georgette, thank you for bringing home the realities of post foster care life. For those of us who were guided and guide our own children, it is a humbling reminder of the critical need to watch out for our children in the welfare system. They are indeed Our Children and we can do better as their parents.

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