This essay was submitted as part of our 2019 Youth Voice Writing Contest, which asked current and former foster youth the question “What does home mean to you?”
Any normal child would define home simply as a house where you grow up with Mom and Dad to live happily together. But what happens when you do not live in a house, or perhaps Mom and Dad are not around? Then what would home be to a child?
Since I can remember, my father was never home because he was in prison. My mother and I lived in a small apartment, but it was too short lived to give the place the title of “home,” as we were evicted for not paying the bills. Of course, that couldn’t be my home if it could be taken away so easily.
Next, we moved in with Grandma, her arms welcoming and soothing to the soul, but of course this is not our home, it is hers. Days spent at Grandma’s were always pleasant — I will never forget her trying to get me to eat all my food so that I would grow big and strong. But she and my mother never got along too well, so we ended up leaving to stay at a hotel.
When I would go to school and my friends would ask me where my home was, I could only think how embarrassing it is to call the Bobo Hotel my home. All I can think to tell them is, “I do not know.” To think as a child, I was embarrassed of telling people where I was living means that certainly there was no way that could be called my home.
When other adults found out where my so-called “home” was, I was taken away from it without hesitation. Heartbroken and scared, I did not know what would happen to me with strange people that I had never met. They told me it would be OK and that I would be put in a proper home, but what does that even mean? Will I finally be in a house with toys, games and even pets that I could only dream of having? Perhaps this was finally the time that Mom, Dad and I would all live under the same roof again.
When I got in the car with Melanie, my caseworker, the only thing I could think of is that I’m being taken to a house with my mom and dad waiting for me to arrive, or at least just my mom. That excitement left my body as soon as I noticed there are a lot more kids around this home. I was being placed in a shelter.
Funny how something called “home” can look so depressing and dark. I had been to visit my father many times and this looked more like a prison than any home I had been to. All the boys are wearing the same outfit, much like the inmates I would see when I would visit my father. I couldn’t help but wonder what I did wrong to be sent here. It was a scary few months living in this “home” before my counselor told me there were people that wanted to take me into their home.
When I met Guy and Lorrie, my foster parents, I was finally taken to what I had always dreamt a home being. I had my own room in a big house, a TV and PlayStation, books to read, and much more. My foster parents were kind and loving.
I knew I should be happy as a kid who just got it all — I mean, my new home even came with an older brother. Yet something did not feel right. I went about my days with my new family like normal: go to school, do chores, eat dinner together, shop for clothes and watch movies. Until one day, I got a phone call from my grandmother. Hearing her voice brought me to tears, not out of sadness but from the uplifting joy it brought to my heart.
That is when I knew right away that as much as Guy and Lorrie gave me everything I could ask for, this was not my home.
Home was waiting for me with my grandmother. Home was her cooking and her caring. Materialistic things did not create a home, it was her soul and love that was home.
Sadly, my mother passed away when I was 16 years old and I never truly got to say goodbye to hear or talk again. I eventually left Guy and Lorrie’s and moved in with my aunt, but things weren’t great there. Whenever things got bad, though, I was always able to escape over to my grandmother’s house for a safe haven when I needed to.
I learned growing up home is where you feel the most loved and safe. As a child I never knew what home was, and it was a confusing topic due to how often I moved around. Now I know that wherever I was with my family was where my home was. My grandmother passed away last year, but I carry a piece of her with me — and, of course, her recipes — to remind me home is never too far away.
Jay Bass is a 25-year-old former foster youth. He is studying computer science at Los Angeles City College and hopes to transfer to the University of Southern California, but he wouldn’t mind settling for the University of California-Los Angeles. He hopes to share the story of his foster youth journey to bring greater awareness to the topic and inspire hope that despite the struggle, it can get better.