Finding Home

We launched a writing contest to see what former foster youth had to say about their time in care or their experiences with the justice system. The contest gave youth the opportunity to write on one of three themes: “What does home mean to you?” “What’s one thing the child welfare or juvenile justice system could have done to help you but didn’t?” and “How has the criminal justice and/or correctional system impacted your family and you personally?” Here is the runner-up for the “defining home” category.

My foster mother had told us kids to open up a certain present before we got to the good stuff. It was small, and everyone was eyeing the bigger, more unusually wrapped gifts. Each of us had gotten a little Polaroid featuring each kid with our foster parents in a simple golden frame. With it came a card shaped like a Christmas tree and a heartfelt message written by our foster mother. I had gotten some amazing gifts that Christmas, but this little Polaroid with this little card was my favorite gift of all. Tears stung my eyes, and I gave my foster parents each a hug. One of my foster sisters turns to me and says something I will never forget: “You’re a part of the family, Presley!” Here, I knew, was home.

Dorothy had really done a number on us when she clicked her ruby red heels and recited, “There’s no place like home.” If I could change anything in that Academy Award-winning script, I would edit it to say, “There’s no one like home.” A house does not make a home. A family makes a home. Living with this foster family for the past six months has taught me many things, but overall it has taught me the meaning of a home. A real home with a real family.

Presley Chandler

If I did not have the amazing social worker that I do, and if I had not met my amazing foster family, I would be in a very different place mentally, emotionally and physically. I had never called Crookston home. I have had so many awful memories there, and it hurts whenever they resurface. I come to town and I see the places I have been and the moments that go along with it and it brings me pain. I know that is not what a home is supposed to be. A home should be somewhere you feel safe, with someone you feel comfortable around. You should feel like you can be yourself there. This is what makes Moorhead my home. My foster family has given me so many wonderful memories that fill me with happiness and when I am in Moorhead, I have so much joy and excitement. I believe a home should give you that feeling.

I remember coming home from college in December. It had been a rough semester, and I was in a bad state, emotionally. Once we got into town, all those ugly feelings evaporated. I saw my foster mom waiting for me at the bus stop, and my suffering was over. I had been so homesick, and not just for Moorhead — I was homesick for my foster family.

A home is not just a person, either. It can be certain times and moments spent with family, lovers, friends. It does not stop short of that. Overall, a home is a feeling. It can be weekday nights sitting in the living room laughing at Live PD with the family. It can be a competitive game of cards against each other just yearning for the upper hand.

I had looked up the definition of the word “home,” and the first few translations were quite unimpressive, unless you are in a middle school English course. The first definition goes like so: “the place where one lives permanently, especially as a member of a family or household.” And the second was even worse: “an institution for people needing professional care or supervision.” Not such a warm translation. But as I scrolled down, I found something that stood out at me. The first verb definition is this: “(of an animal) return by instinct to its territory after leaving it.” Had the word ‘instinct’ been absent, I would not pay any mind to it. But is that not what we do as well? We return to what is safe and familiar. We home to family and friends and feelings of love and security.

“Be it ever so humble, it’s more than just a place. It’s also an idea — one where the heart is,” says author Verlyn Klinkenborg about home. Have you ever gotten homesick, not for a place, but a person? They are home. The feeling they give you is home. For me, that is my foster family, my best friends and my partner.

Did you know that we as Homo sapiens were nomads in the beginning? We followed the food and the good weather, no matter where that was. Thus, home was never really a place to begin with. Home was what we made it. To this day, this still applies. I believe we began as nomads because we were on a quest. I believe that from the very beginning, we were always on the hunt for home.

A psychologist by the name of Michael Lehofer had dug into the science of homesickness. Ironically, he found that the people who have the least emotional attachment to their dwellings are the most homesick. I can undoubtedly relate to this. I used to get so homesick for a place that did not even feel like home. Dr. Lehofer concludes this is because these people do not have a strong sense of home. That they have not yet found home. We get homesick for a home that does not even exist — yet. It is just a matter of finding home. As for me, I have definitely found home. Have you?

Presley Chandler is 19 years old and living in Moorhead, Minn., with her foster family. She is an activities assistant at a nursing home and enjoys art, hockey and figure skating. She is double majoring in journalism and cultural anthropology at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, and hopes to use these degrees to cultivate a career in foreign journalism.

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