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December/January 2020Vol. 20, No. 10A Wheel to Crisis

Written by Bobbi Taylor, foster care alumni, advocate

I aged out of foster care at 19 years old. Like many young adults, I was ready for freedom, or so I thought. Life still had a lot to teach me about becoming a responsible young adult. During that time, I often thought of the advice my sister gave me. She tried to share her own insight with me so I would not have to learn the hard way. Unfortunately, that advice went in one ear and out the other. When I started listening to her, I got on track to be successful. I had a job, I was enrolled in college, and had just moved into my own apartment. Yet, the one thing she had no advice for was how to take care of a baby, and that is exactly what life gave me after just a year of being on my own.

After my son's arrival, our budget was tight. Another challenge was trying to balance work, school, and motherhood. I was trying so hard to make ends meet and to provide a good life for my son, but it just wasn't enough. More often than not, I would come up short one way or another. I felt so defeated, like I was an inadequate mother. 

Many nights, I would watch my son sleep and cry silently next to him, admiring his peaceful sleep and reflecting on his unconditional love for me. The one thing I knew was that he was the single most important person in the world to me, and I loved him unconditionally as well. I was doing it for him, and I'd pick up where I left off the next day. As sure as I was that things could only get better, life hit me again.

There were a few things that factored into my wheel-to-crisis situation. I had not built up my credit, which created barriers. I eventually had a $350-a-month car payment for an unreliable car from a "buy-here-pay-now" dealership. Earlier that year, we relocated for my son's safety and well-being and settled for the only place that didn't run a credit score. By winter, I learned that our new home was poorly insulated. In addition, our triplex was cross-wired with our neighbor, whose home was larger. This increased our energy bill to more than what I had budgeted for.

By the holidays, I knew I wouldn't have money to spare for my son's first Christmas, which broke my heart. The car needed a new tire, and I didn't even have spare money for that. I needed to make a decision on whether to fix the car or try alternative transportation methods. Ultimately, I made the decision to fix the car to make sure we had reliable transportation in case of an emergency. I was short on rent but hoped to make it up at work. Then, I was faced with another challenge.

The following week—1 week until our rent was due—we woke up to a cold house and found our electricity had been shut off. I had been making small payments hoping it would suffice. It didn't, and the bill was now devastatingly high. Not only did I have to pay the entire balance of my account, but I also had to pay a $250 deposit to turn it back on. If that wasn't bad enough, the next bill included an additional reconnection fee. This destroyed me. My pride as a mother was hurt. I had failed to provide for my son's basic needs. I felt like I failed as a mother, despite trying so hard. Although it cost the same as our rent, I decided to make the payment to turn on our electricity. 

That decision jeopardized our housing situation. The rental company sent letters and called me multiple times a day. I was scared to tell them the truth about the rent, but I knew avoiding them would make the situation worse. They told me we were close to getting evicted. I couldn't hold back the tears as I explained to them what was going on. They allowed me to make payments on the rent until I got caught up. The weight on my shoulders was lifted. I knew I had a chance to save everything I worked so hard for. Eventually, I paid everything off and moved to a more stable home with affordable utilities.

Through this whole experience, there was never a time that my love for my son waivered. If anything, it's that love that kept me going. Every decision I made was for his well-being, and ultimately I have my son to thank for keeping me moving forward. It wasn't a lack of trying that put us in this situation. It was life teaching the lessons that eventually every young adult will learn. However, there was a lack of guidance and support through this learning process. I had to learn how to be a new mom and balance a budget to meet the needs of a baby on my own. Being connected to community resources prior to aging out of care would have made a significant difference in my life. I was a young mom, in poverty, with no supports, and the only thing to drive me through my wheel to crisis was the love and commitment I had to being the best mother to my son.

Today, we are in a different place, and I embrace the life lessons that come our way. I am better at decision-making and prioritizing what is necessary and what we can live without. I regret nothing because it has made me a better mother and built my resilience. The best lesson I learned through this was regardless of how rough and dark things got, my son was happy as long he was with me. He didn't care about toys for Christmas; he would rather play with me as I cooked us dinner. He wasn't worried about how little money we had at the time; he wanted to play peek-a-boo with paper as I tried to finish my assignments for the next day. I learned that regardless of how bad things seemed, my love for my son would never change. As long as I continued to be the best mother I could be, things would turn out okay. The crisis never defined how much I love my son. My love for him helped conquer every obstacle that would lead us to a better place.