“There’s No Place Like Home”

"For many young adults from foster care, the idea we have of the "home" we grew up in doesn''t always feel loving, welcoming, or - most importantly - safe. "

I remember staying at my grandma's house when I was growing up, around age 7 or 8, when I still lived with my biological parents. Grandma would scratch my back at night before I fell asleep and always had homemade chocolate pudding in the fridge for after dinner. Something I loved about Grandma’s house was how quiet it was. Every afternoon we would nap after lunch, and I would wake to the sound of her dishwasher running. Somehow, the sound was so calming; my house was usually too noisy and chaotic to hear the dishwasher. I would wake to the light hum of the machine and swirl of the water inside, with warm sunshine streaming through the windows, illuminating the dust particles in the air. It was always so peaceful and I always woke up feeling so safe and happy - feelings I didn’t always have during mornings at home.

I distinctly remember waking up one Saturday morning last summer in my apartment, where the sun was shining bright through the curtains. I kept my eyes closed as my body slowly woke up, limb by limb. As I lay awake in bed under the darkness of my eyelids, my ears focused in on the sound of the dishwasher running in my kitchen.  In my sleepy state, I forgot where I was for just a moment, and I almost believed I was 7 years old again waking up at Grandma’s house. I soon realized that my roommate must have turned it on before she left for work, but I still felt so safe, calm, and happy.

I felt like I was home.

The home I knew at my grandma’s house doesn't exist anymore, and that's not because I went into foster care but rather because life happened. She sold her house and is now living in an assisted living community. But since then, I’ve been able to feel that same sense of safety, comfort, and love I felt after waking up from a nap in her house. That’s because home is not a place, it's a feeling.

In college, I constantly hear my peers discuss “going home for the weekend”.  Something I’ve continually struggled with since my freshman year is wishing I had a place to call home. My first apartment I had across from my university’s parking lot didn’t feel like home, and neither did the dorms. Especially not the dorms.  I don’t know the way to my parents’ house now, and I’m not comfortable enough to go knock on the doors of the families I lived with in care to randomly join them for dinner or ask them to take care of me when I’m sick.  I sure don’t want to go back to the residential placement I was at for 8 months when I was 15. So where is home?

For many young adults from foster care, the idea we have of the “home” we grew up in doesn’t always feel loving, welcoming, or - most importantly - safe. Youth in foster care may not want to go home, or may not like being there. I’m learning that one of the best things about becoming an adult after aging out of the foster care system is that I can decide where home is, and I can create what home feels like. Judges who have never met me and workers who can’t pronounce my last name are no longer controlling where “home” is and what it means; for the first time in my life, I have that control.

For me, home is being wrapped up in my favorite blanket sitting on my bed with a cup of tea and good book with the dishwasher running and my cat by my side. Home is hugging my best friend, hearing my sweet boyfriend’s voice on the other end of the phone saying "how ya doin’?” Home is running - literally running - into the arms of someone I love. Home is feeling the sunshine on my shoulders, sand beneath my toes, wind cooling my skin, and raindrops on my head. Home is listening to my favorite podcast while I’m driving, or hearing my favorite song come on the radio. Home is when all the lights are green on my way to my boyfriend’s apartment when I can’t wait to see him, or seeing a group of friends waving at me when I walk in to meet them at a restaurant. Home is reading the first sentence of my favorite book. Home feels good; it feels like being wanted or like I belong somewhere. Home feels like I’m safe. It feels like something that makes me happy. Home isn’t a place -- it’s a feeling.

If you were/are in foster care, create home and take it with you. Even if you’re in a residential placement you’re miserable at, maybe find home in the nights they serve mac and cheese for dinner in the cafeteria. Designate home as watching the sunset through the window, or having a conversation with your favorite staff. Dream of the home you’d like to live in someday. What does it look like? What does it feel like? Find some experience, some item, some feeling, that you find comforting and then re-create it.

I’ve lived in 8 different places since I was 14 years old, in 7 different cities. I think my longest placement was for about a year and a half. I recently re-signed my lease with my roommate (a friend I know from high school) to stay in our current apartment for another year. As I scribbled my name along the dotted line of the lease, I realized that this is the first time since I was 14 years old that I will be staying in one place for 2 years in a row. Signing that paper felt like a milestone. It felt like a victory. At 23 years old, I finally feel like I’m home.

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Fostering Success Michigan is a program of Educate Tomorrow that aims to increase access and success in higher education and post-college careers for youth with experience in foster care. Learn how you can contribute to building a holistic network that insulates (i.e., strengthens protective factors and reduces risks) the education to career "pipeline." 

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