By Brandy, 15 (Author's last name and school withheld)
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Brandy, who lives in a group home in South Los Angeles, rarely sees her mom now that her mom has moved to another state.
Photo by Katie Havard, 16, New Roads School (Santa Monica)

My mom and I have always argued. It’s not normal fighting, like the fights my friends get in with their parents over smoking, ditching school or not cleaning their rooms. It starts when she yells and curses. Then I talk back and yell at her. We say mean things to each other that we know will hurt each other. She has hit me and even threatened to kill me.

That’s why when things got really bad last November, I knew I had to move out of the house and go into foster care. I’d gone into foster care before and when I would visit my mom on the weekends, we wouldn’t argue as much. I wanted my mom and I to have family therapy to work out our problems, to get help for us so we wouldn’t have to fight so much. Then I wanted to move back home.

When my mom and I weren’t fighting, I liked being at home. I liked hanging out with my five sisters and brothers. I liked being in San Pedro, where I could walk along the bike path at the marina, ride the bus and go to my friends’ houses or my Aunt Cathy’s house.

But now that my mom moved to another state, and I’m frustrated by the stupid rules of foster care, I think I made a mistake going into the system. It isn’t helping me. It’s just keeping me away from my mother longer.

A rough childhood

My dad died in a drive-by shooting when my mom was seven months pregnant with me, and most days my mom would leave us with my grandpa, so he was the "parent" I was closest to. He took us fishing and for my sixth birthday he took me to Chuck E. Cheese. I used to talk to my grandpa. I’d tell him that my brother and sister were mean to me. He would listen and tell them to stop, even though they didn’t. Most of the time my mom wouldn’t say anything to them.

But everything changed when my grandpa died. I was 6 years old and cried for days. I told God, "First you take my dad, now you take my grandpa." I hated everyone and everything.

I started gaining weight. My older brother and sister would make fun of me. They’d call me fat and stupid. I started fighting more with them and my mom.

My mom had another child, my little sister Brea, but her father got locked up right after she was born. Then things really started to change. My mom had four kids and was by herself. She became angrier and took it out on me. In third grade I was playing kickball and I scraped myself. I went home and said, "Mom, there’s this big bruise on the side of my hip." She said, "And what do you want me to do, it’s already there." I thought, that’s messed up that she doesn’t care. I wanted her to at least ask what happened.

She started hitting me a lot more when we argued or when my sisters and I were fighting. I wondered why my mom didn’t like me.

When I was 10, I told a staff person at the YMCA that I didn’t want them to tell my mom that I had gotten in trouble because she would hit me. They told someone that she hit me and I went into foster care. I liked being away from my mom and I liked the staff at the facility, MacLaren Hall. One of the staff did my hair in cornrows for court. After about nine months, the court told my mom she could have me back.

The anger and screaming were awful

It started all over again, my mom yelling, cussing and getting angry. One time me and my older sister were fighting and my mom hit me, but she didn’t hit my sister. She wasn’t being fair. I wanted my mother to be as nice to me as she was to her other kids. That night I cried myself to sleep.

I started cutting myself on my wrists every time I was mad about all the stuff my mom did to me. It made me feel better. When my mom noticed the cuts she would call the hospital, but I felt like she was just trying to get rid of me.

Our next-door neighbors would call the Department of Children and Family Services when they heard the cussing and screaming. When I was 12, the social worker finally came to our house. She said my mom wasn’t able to take care of me. She said, "Everything in this house is hectic." She was right, so they took me out of my house again. I lived in foster homes, group homes—which are big houses where you live with other foster youth and adult staff who are like parents—and finally I moved in with Aunt Cathy.

At Christmas time, around my 13th birthday, I met my therapist Robert. From the first day I liked him. He listened and knew the right things to say, "I understand" and "I know." That was different from my mom. When I tried to talk to my mom about how I felt, she would say, "We’re just going to argue."

I went back home again and for six months I still had therapy. Robert helped because sometimes instead of arguing with my mom, I would call him. He would tell me I can’t change my mom, but I can change my own attitude. He said I can’t always have an attitude just because she’s done something bad, that I have to try to work it out. But then I left the system and because of that, the therapy ended. That scared me and made me mad because I knew I needed Robert.

Sure enough, my mom and I couldn’t get along in the same house. My mom had left my stepdad. I didn’t have him or Robert to talk to and I didn’t like my mom’s new boyfriend. We were fighting more. If she asked me to clean, I’d say, "How come just me, what about your other kids?"

Then one day I got in an argument with my mom because she took her boyfriend’s side. All hell broke loose. My mom called my grandma, "Can I drop this girl off with you? Because I’m going to kill her if I don’t drop her off." My sister called the police. I told them I wanted to leave my house, but instead of putting me in foster care again, my mom took me to my grandma’s. I stayed there for a few weeks.

When I went back home, we got in another big argument. I told my older sister Angela not to hit my little sister in the head. My mom took Angela’s side and we started arguing. My mom said, "I’m tired of you, get out then if you don’t like it. Get the f*** out."

Then my mom said to Angela in front of me, "I’m going to kill her." I told her, "Do it mom, I want you to do it." I didn’t mean it, but I did want her to hit me so I’d have a reason to call my social worker and get out of the house.

My mom told me to get out so I packed my stuff and went to my Aunt Cathy’s house. I asked her to call the Department of Children and Family Services. My social worker held a meeting and I said I had to move out. I knew these fights with my mom were going to happen again, the same thing over and over.

I wanted to move in with Aunt Cathy again, but they moved me into a group home. I missed my family, even though we fight a lot, but I knew it was the best thing at the time.

In the room that I shared, I put up posters of celebrities from magazines, like Johnny Depp, Angelina Jolie and a whole bunch of Mariah Carey, to make it feel like it was my room at home. I liked staring at Mariah Carey on the wall. I love her voice and her personality, she’s nice and it seems like she cares about others. I would daydream and wish she was my mom or that she could adopt me.

Things at the group home were OK. I argued with the staff about me butting into people’s conversations and chores, but they didn’t cuss. I also had therapy on Mondays.

My mom and i just needed some space

When I went home for visits on the weekends, it was easier for my mom and I not to yell at each other because we weren’t always in each other’s faces. One time I asked, "Mom, can we go to Target?" She told me twice to hold on. The third time I asked her, she said "Wait." Usually I would start arguing with her, I’d say, "You already said that, why are you always lying to me." This time I said, "All right mom, whenever you’re ready." I smiled hearing myself say that.  

I liked going home on the weekends, and I felt like I was one step closer to moving back—to being together in the house without arguing. My school counselor told me I smiled more. I wrote less poetry because I only write poetry when I’m mad at my mom.

But then in March I found out from my social worker that I was a ward of the court, which meant my mom was not my guardian anymore. Since I went into the system voluntarily, I didn’t think I would become a ward of the court. The court said I could only see my mom for six hours on the weekend. I didn’t see her after that. There was no point. We would have to spend two hours driving down to San Pedro and back to Los Angeles. You can’t do nothing for four hours.

Then I got really bad news. I found out that my mom and my younger siblings were moving to Hawaii with my mom’s new husband to live in military housing. I was mad at my mom. I felt like she was leaving me. I wanted to go with her, but that wasn’t an option because I’m a ward of the court. The system was getting me madder than when I lived with my mom.

I went to court and my social worker told the judge I wanted to be transferred to foster care in Hawaii. The judge said OK but they had to find a foster home or group home for me to live in.

I was on my best behavior

While I was waiting, I visited my mom over spring break. I went over there telling myself, "My mom asked me to come over here, I can’t act up." I cleaned the house and watched my sisters and brothers. We had one argument, but it wasn’t big.

I wanted to stay there. I didn’t want to go back to the group home. I was tired of it—the staff yelling and the girls’ attitudes, there’s so much drama and the rules are so strict. I can only call my mom on Wednesdays for 15 minutes. I can’t go outside after school. The other day I tried to reserve the TV at 9 p.m., but a girl said, "No, I haven’t watched TV all day." So the staff turned the TV off.

It’s getting me mad being away from my family. I miss being with them, watching Desperate Housewives and Veronica Mars, eating dinner or anything.

I miss my mom. We did sometimes have fun together. In the morning, when she was in the mood to play around, she would come into my room and sit on me to wake me up. I liked riding in the car when we’d go places far. I called them road trips, anything to get out of the house. We’d talk, like about her sister. Those were some of the few times she listened to me.

Some people need to be taken out of their house because their parents do drugs or alcohol or beat them. But most people don’t need to be taken out. They should leave them in their house and give them programs in the community that provide kids with free therapy and anger management.

Over spring break I learned that I can get along with my mom if I try hard. We’ll still have to have family therapy, but I’m hoping things will be better when I move to Hawaii. I’m ready to work on the things I know I need to do, like not arguing back. I want her to work on her anger. I want my mom and I to be mother and daughter and get along. I don’t want to be in the system for the next three years.