By D.B., 16
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Growing up in Watts, my life was hell because my mom did drugs and I had to help her get through her days. It’s been hard not having a mother who takes care of you and is there for you, but I’ve learned to make it on my own.

Almost every day, starting when I was 8, I got my mom food, laid her clothes out on the bed, helped her brush her teeth and ran her bath water. I also did all the duties that a mother is supposed to do like feed my little sister and two brothers, make them take a bath and get them to school.

I knew the little girl inside me had it hard. I didn’t go outside to ride my bike, skate or talk to my friends. I knew that if I went outside at 5 p.m., I would have to come back inside at 6 to cook dinner. I wished I could play with the other kids on my block. They looked like they were having fun.

I went to elementary school only about once every three weeks because I had to take care of my siblings. It was too hard spending eight hours at school and then coming home and working more. Plus, I knew that when it was time for parent-teacher conferences, my mom would never go. Since she wouldn’t know if I was doing good, I just never went. My friends would ask me, "Why don’t you go to school?" I would say, "I don’t have time." Before they could ask why, I would walk away. Later I would talk to my friends through a window at home and they would tell me what went on in school.

The hardest part was when my mom would ask me to go next door to buy her drugs, like weed, methamphetamines and cocaine. She was too tired to do it herself. I wanted to die because I felt like it would be my fault if she overdosed. But I did it so she would not yell at me. My neighbor who sold the drugs treated me better than she treated her own kids. She would tell me I should never use drugs.

But when I was around 9 years old I decided I could not be my mom’s drug supplier anymore. Sometimes when I refused to get her drugs, she screamed at me and called me a "worthless piece of s***." I’d fake laugh and say, "Ha-ha. You’re funny." I wasn’t angry. I think drugs made her do things she didn’t really want to do.

My mom hadn’t always been like this. She was a very sweet and smart woman who was going to college when she had my older sister and then me. That stressed her out and her life took a bad turn. She stopped working and started using drugs. Then she stopped going to night school and had more kids. Now she has 10 children and we are all in foster care.

A few times my auntie told me she was going to take me to live with her, but I told her no. I was tired of waking up early to wash the dishes and do other chores, but I would have felt bad leaving my siblings. Sometimes I wished I was never born.

They took us away

But everything changed when I was 11. A lady from the Department of Children and Family Services came to my school and took away me and my little sister, who was 6. In the car, I asked the lady why she took us from our home. She told me, "The school called us and said that you and your sister have not been in school and that your mom has a major drug problem." (I found out later that my best friend had told the school.) I began to cry. I wanted to stay at home. I didn’t want to go some place where I didn’t know anybody.

My sister and I were taken to a foster home in Gardena. For the first time, I could watch TV and play outside. But it made me mad because I was used to having something to do. I didn’t miss my mom, but I was used to having responsibilities at home. My sister and I destroyed our foster mother’s furniture so she kicked us out after two weeks.

After that my sister and I were separated. She went to a group home and I went to a foster home in Inglewood. I kept thinking I would go home soon, but I didn’t. Little did I know, I would never move back home. It took a long time to get adjusted to the foster care system.

One day I got beat up by my foster sister. I had no idea why. So at age 13, I moved to a group home in Hollywood called Aviva, where my sister was.

Living in a group home was tough because I had to live with 50 other girls. I didn’t like the staff at the group home because they told us what time to wake up, go to school, eat and go to sleep. It felt like juvenile hall to me. I was used to doing whatever I wanted to. I was mad at everything: my mom, the system. I took my anger out on anybody. My mouth would get me in trouble. If I was watching TV and I was mad and the staff asked me to go to my room, I’d say "I ain’t doing s***."

Most of the girls saw their families on the weekends, but not me. That made me think about my mom. I wondered if she had stopped doing drugs and if she wanted to see me or hug me. But I never called her. I was afraid she would hate me because I was not there to clean up the house.

One day I got in an argument with a supervisor about going to the doctor and I socked her. Then that night I got in another fight because a girl didn’t clean up her mess when I asked. The staff sent me to my room. While I was there, a new girl named Lapondra told me an amazing story about how she had to do everything for herself because her mom used drugs. She didn’t let her past get to her. She had struggled but she kept her head up. She told me, "Whatever don’t kill you makes you stronger." Lapondra inspired me to be more positive and love myself for who I am.

Because of the fight with the girl, I got sent to another group home. Even though I remembered what Lapondra said, I still had a lot of anger inside. One day I cursed out the owner of the group home and said I’d kill her because she wouldn’t let me talk to my sister when she called. I spent eight months in juvenile hall for threatening her. Juvenile hall was worse than the group home. It was boring. I was only out of my room to eat, go to school and use the bathroom. The rest of the time I’d sleep.

When my time was up I went back to Aviva. The staff kept bugging me to call my mom. They told me, "She’s probably worried about you." I started thinking that maybe I should call her, maybe she really was thinking about me. I hadn’t talked to her since I went into the system.

So right after I turned 14, I finally picked up the phone and called my mom. I couldn’t even talk because I was crying. My mom asked why I had to be so far away. That felt weird because she had never asked questions like that, stuff like "Where you going?" or "Where you been?" It made me feel good. But then she asked me, "When you going to buy me a Scooby Doo sweater?" I couldn’t believe it. She said, "You get a check every month." I was thinking, "Wow, and I’m going to spend it on you?" I said "Never!" and hung up the phone. I went to my room and cried. I figured my mom was still doing drugs because she had been talking slowly. I didn’t even know if she was caring for my younger brother.

I eventually had to leave Aviva because of another fight. I went to another group home called Penny Lane. When I first got there, I still had an "I don’t care" attitude. I told them, "I’d rather be in jail than here." One day this girl was getting on my nerves because she always said to me, "Why don’t you talk? You’re boring." So my friends and I got in a fight with her. All her friends jumped in and then all 50 girls got involved. We got punished for starting a riot and couldn’t go nowhere.

After a week, I was tired of sitting around. Plus, I was scared of being sent to jail if I got in a fight again. So I told one of the staff, Damon, that I wanted to get promoted to a higher behavioral level, which gives you more privileges. He sat me down and said, "Let me tell you what you got to do." He told me I needed to be a positive role model and stop cursing at staff. At first I was like, "Whatever." But Damon continued talking to me. He gave me lectures about my behavior and how I could better myself. He told me I didn’t have to whine like the other kids when I didn’t get my way.

I learned to control my anger

After that, my behavior started to improve. What also helped was going to anger management group. It was difficult at first because I didn’t want to remove the anger I had inside. I felt that if I changed, people would look at me differently. But a little part of me thought it might help. I was tired of losing my voice screaming at everybody. I learned that when I get mad, I ain’t got to go off. I can go to my room, turn on my music and write in my journal. That worked. I stopped getting into fights.

The day after my 15th birthday, on the spur of the moment, I called my mom. I wanted a normal relationship, with a mom who tells you to go to school and do your homework and gives you attention. A mom who would tell me, "You’ll come home some day." It didn’t go well. I told her I hated her because I blamed her for my being in the system. She told me I had to get away from her to have a better life and that I was still her angel. She told me, "Don’t worry, you’ll be home soon." But I thought it was a lie and that she never cared about me anyway. After that I decided not to talk to my mom anymore. I was trying to better myself, but I realized that whenever I talked to my mom, she brought me down and made me feel like crap. If I tried to tell her about my problems, she said, "Oh girl, don’t worry about that." She didn’t take my life seriously. We barely knew each other and we didn’t understand each other.

These days I don’t even think about my mom that much. It’s easy because I have a lot to do with school. I left Penny Lane in August and moved into a foster home. I won’t contact my mom. I don’t want to see her. I hate her. She made me a drug baby because she used drugs while she was pregnant with me. She used drugs with all of her kids. It makes me mad because I could have died and she probably wouldn’t have cared.

It hurts that I didn’t have a real mother-daughter relationship. But if it’s not possible to have a normal relationship, then you got to do what you got to do to make yourself better. When I was younger, I thought I would end up addicted to drugs. But I’m doing better than I expected because of the foster care system. Being in the system hasn’t always been a good thing, but it kept me in school. I’m going to graduate from high school and go to college. I’m proud of that. Even though life has been hard, I made it. My advice to others is you have to keep your head up and not let other people get to you.