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I had to take my mom’s place

1st place $50

Author’s name withheld

I remember all the nights when my mom would tuck me in and tell me she loved me. I also remember always wanting to turn 18 and move out of the house and get a place of my own. To me that was what being an adult was all about. But that didn’t happen because my mom passed away when I was 13. That was the day that I was forced to become an adult.

When my mom passed away I didn’t know what to do. I was confused, sad and lost. My mom—my best friend, the person who looked over me—had gone away with no return. I didn’t really know whom to turn to for help, especially since I had 1- and 7-year-old brothers. The only person we have now is my dad, but he is always working so he isn’t there most of the time.

I never imagined all the responsibilities my mom had. She had to cook dinner, do laundry and keep a clean house. Now those are all the things I am doing. On top of that I have to keep up with my schoolwork. What sucked was that I had to give up all of my personal time. I no longer go out on weekends. Now all of my time is dedicated to my brothers.

Over time my brothers looked up to me. To them I was like their mom because I am the one who takes care of them. It was really hard to be emotionally strong for them because I would always want to break down and cry. I wanted my mom. Most of the time I was questioning myself about what to do. It was hard because I would console them and tell them everything was going to be OK.

I never imagined I was going to become an adult at such a young age. I would always consider myself a mommy’s girl. Now I feel like I’m the mom because I am the one who does everything without the help of anyone. Being an adult to me means doing everything my mom would do. The things I took for granted now seem very hard. My whole perspective toward becoming an adult changed. I thought I would become an adult when I turned 18. Now I’m 14 with the responsibilities of a 27-year-old. Age is just a number. A number isn’t something that is going to change you. The only person who can make a change is you.

The court decides when I’m an adult

2nd place $30

By M.C., Central Juvenile Hall

California is one of many states that has high rates of sending juvenile offenders to adult court to be tried as adults. I know this because I am, unfortunately, one of them. I am a “fitness fighter,” or high-risk offender. This has forced me to enter the crossroads between childhood and adulthood. Being a fitness fighter means I am being evaluated to see if I should be tried in adult court. Being unfit for juvenile court means doing adult time. I am only 16, but the judge will decide if I’m an adult.

This is a long and stressful process. First, I have been housed in a special unit in juvenile hall. Next, I have to go to court. When I first appeared in court, the judge told me that a psychiatrist was going to interview and observe me. Then, she scheduled my next court date for more than two months later. After the psychiatrist has observed me over time, I will go back to court, and they will set a date for my fitness hearing. Finally, my fitness hearing will decide if I am going to adult court or if I will remain in the juvenile court system. The whole fitness process can take many months. I have now been locked up in juvenile hall for seven months.

At home, I would be considered an adult when I turn 18 and leave home. Being locked up in juvenile hall has made me mature much faster than I had planned. Kids my age in the outs (not locked up) often can’t wait to grow up and become an adult. If I am tried as an adult, no matter what my age, it means a harsher sentence and time in a youth prison until I am shipped off to an adult penitentiary.

My life is hanging by a thread in the hands of my judge and nothing could be more frightening. I have seen many “kids,” or according to the judge “adults,” sent to spend the rest of their lives, or a good majority of it, behind bars. I fear that each court date could be my last and that I won’t be able to see my family again as a free person. I think that everybody deserves a second chance. Now I am more mature. I regret and feel remorse for what I did.

Most young people have a different perspective about what makes a person an adult—mine is drastic. If the judge’s gavel drops and finalizes my loss of fitness, at that instant, I will officially be an adult.

No rush to grow up

3rd place $20

By Abraelle Shirley, Lawndale HS

Like most people, I had the urge to grow up quickly. Despite the constant “they grow up so fast” from relatives, it was not fast enough for me. I used to say, “I can’t wait until I grow up,” usually when I was frustrated with my mom’s strict rules. I fantasized about living a posh life, walking under the warm sun wearing designer shades with my athletic boyfriend before stopping at a restaurant and drinking expensive wines without my mom nagging me. My fantasy would abruptly end when my mom shattered my thoughts by reminding me that it was getting late and I had not yet started my homework. Sigh.

Through my own experiences—wearing excessive makeup to make myself appear older and dating older guys—and enlightenment, my views of being an adult have changed. Adulthood is something that will occur whether we are ready or not. College is a big leap that forces people into that transition from childhood to the beginning of adult life, especially if you are going to be living on campus. In college, I will have to cook and clean and care for myself. I will no longer have my mom telling me to avoid certain people, not to procrastinate and to make the right decisions. However, I will be able to keep the advice my mom has instilled in me so far, even when we are apart, although it may be hard to do so with the partying and alcohol and stress of college.

Legally, being an adult could mean being 18, yet there is no way that minute that distinguishes someone from being 17 on one day and 18 the next can determine their adulthood. Being an adult comes gradually as people take responsibilities for their actions, take care of priorities and look out for themselves with limited support of others. Adulthood is not determined by age or ability to bear children or being physically developed. I know people older than 18 who have not yet obtained these traits and I’ve seen many teen moms dependent on their parents to support the baby.

I will be an adult when I am able to make the right decisions determined by my morals that I have acquired over my years, when I understand the repercussions of my actions, when I am self-sufficient or accept limited help from parents or friends, and when I care not only for myself but others. The closer I get the more frightened I become. Now I’m in no rush to become an adult. I will take advantage of my mom’s guidance and housing and rules for as long as I can. I will enjoy the moment I am in and embrace my life when I am an adult.

Next essay contest—What do you take for granted?

There are those things in our lives that are always there, but we never think about. You might live 10 minutes from the beach. It could be the blanket that keeps you warm at night. Maybe it’s how all of your dirty clothes somehow appear in your closet, clean and neatly folded, or that you are able to walk around your neighborhood and feel safe. It’s part of your life, but you don’t often take the time to appreciate it. What’s something in your life that you take for granted? Tell us why it’s important to you and what your life would be like without it.

Write and essay to L.A. Youth and tell us about it:
Essays should be a page or more. Include your name, school, age and phone number with your essay. The staff of L.A. Youth will read the entries and pick three winners. Your name will be withheld if you request it. The first-place winner will receive $50. The second-place winner will get $30 and the third-place winner will receive $20. Winning essays will be printed in our May-June issue and put on

Mail your essays to:
L.A. Youth Essay Contest
5967 W. 3rd St.
Suite 301
Los Angeles, CA 90036

DEADLINE: Friday, June 18, 2010