I was adopted when I was 7. Since I’d been with the family since I was a baby, I already felt like I was a part of the family so getting my last name changed just made it official. I didn’t know very much about my biological family. I knew that I had six brothers and sisters but I had never met them. I didn’t know why my biological mother wasn’t raising me, but I didn’t think about it that much. When I was younger I took where I was in life for granted. As I got older I became more appreciative of being taken in and raised by someone who didn’t give birth to me.
Growing up I felt like any other kid. I loved playing with LEGOs and cars and my adoptive mom would always get me new ones. I felt loved but sometimes it would bother me when people would say I didn’t look like my mother or ask me if she was my real mother. It made me feel like I didn’t belong with my family. For a moment I would think about my biological mother and siblings. Where are they? How would things be if I was with them? But I’d quickly get over it because I knew my family loved me.
I took school seriously in elementary school, practicing my cursive and multiplication tables, but it got harder in middle school. All I thought about was having fun. I’d tell jokes to get attention and wouldn’t pay attention in class. I would rarely do homework at home. I only wanted to play basketball and video games. I’d do my homework the next day in homeroom or at lunch.
I ignored her lectures about my grades
When my report cards came, I had Ds and Fs. My mother would lecture me, “You aren’t going to get anywhere in life if you don’t do good in school. I’m in your corner 100 percent but you have to do better. The sky is the limit.” I’d tell her “I know” or say “OK” really loud so I wouldn’t have to listen to her. Then she’d start yelling, “You need to start listening and stop thinking you know everything.” I wanted her to stop yelling so much and leave me alone, even though I knew it was my fault for getting bad grades.
In some classes I got my grades up to Cs by the end of the semester. In other classes I wasn’t so lucky so sometimes I had to go to summer school. We didn’t have homework in summer school so I got As and Bs and I was able to graduate from middle school.
My mother didn’t go to college but she would always stress to me how important college was. My aunts and uncles would too. A lot of them dropped out of college because they had a job at the same time and it got too hard for them. They would tell me how they wished they could have stayed in college so they wouldn’t be working minimum wage jobs and struggling to pay their bills. I always wanted to go to college and what they said motivated me even more. I knew it would help me be successful. But I didn’t think Cs were that bad.
I thought I was right about everything so I was always arguing with my mom. If she asked me to do something I’d continue to play my video games or if she asked me to clean up something, I’d say it was my sister’s turn. When I talked back to her, she would remind me of everything she’d done for me. “I took you in. You should be grateful.” I would say, “I am grateful” to get her to be quiet. I didn’t like when she said that because I wasn’t ungrateful. I felt bad that she felt that way.
Other times when we got into a really bad argument, she’d get fed up and send me to my adoptive sister’s house for a couple days. It gave me time to reflect on what I did wrong. Every time I went back home, I would try to do the right thing so I wouldn’t get in trouble. It would last for a few weeks but then I’d end up going back to my old ways. That would get me in trouble again.
I imagined living with another family
I started to wish I was never adopted by her and that I wasn’t being yelled at all the time. I would picture myself with a family like the ones in the movies I watched because they looked so happy and it looked like their lives were easy.
When I was graduating from middle school my mom wanted to send me to King Drew, a smaller magnet high school known for its academics. I didn’t want to go. I wanted to stay in my neighborhood with my friends. I kept trying to convince my mom to let me go to my home school, Santee. “Santee’s new, it’s nice,” I’d say. “My best friend is going there. Why can’t I go there?” She would respond, “King Drew sends a lot of students to four-year universities. You’ll have a better chance of getting into college.” But I figured I could go to college no matter which high school I went to. In the end I didn’t have any say, so I ended up going to King Drew.
When I got to King Drew I was still lazy. I was tired when I got home from basketball practice so I wrote anything down for my homework and went to sleep. I wouldn’t study for tests. I’d think, “I’ll remember what I learned,” but I was wrong. I had Bs and Cs. When I got a C on my report card my mom would say, “You need to bring that up.” I’d think, “OK I got this, I’m going to do this.” It was high school and a new start so I wanted to do well. But it was hard to improve my grades because I procrastinated and talked to my friends in classes I didn’t like.
In 11th grade my friends and teachers were talking about college more often. I started to realize my mom wasn’t yelling for no reason—everything she was telling me was to help me—so I started to listen. At college workshops I learned that the UCs require a minimum GPA of 3.0. I realized that too many Cs won’t get you a 3.0. I needed to focus and work hard.
I moved my seat to the front of the class and raised my hand and participated more. I started studying and I asked my teachers for help after school if I needed it. I started doing a lot better. I had As and Bs and one C in physics. My mom would say that’s good but even then she’d say, “You need to get that C up.” I appreciated that because it helped me want to do better.
When senior year began, I had a 2.7 GPA. I applied to five Cal States. My mom really stayed on me. She made sure I mailed everything and didn’t miss a deadline. It was helpful because there’s a lot you have to turn in to schools, like transcripts, tests scores, letters of recommendation and essays. I might not have made all the deadlines without her.
I got even more motivated to do something with my life one day in November. I woke up late and missed the school bus so I ended up staying home from school. I watched SportsCenter and ate Frosted Flakes. About 30 minutes later my mom called me into her room and we started talking.
“Your social worker called yesterday,” she said. “Wow, for what?” I asked. She said, “Your mom lied to the social worker saying I had died.” I had never heard from my biological mother, so it was weird. She said, “I guess she was trying to get you back.” I said, “Well she could have done it a better way.” She said, “I think she’s still on drugs, Charles.”
I was in shock; it was so much to take in. It answered questions like why she didn’t keep us but it raised more questions. Why couldn’t she give up drugs? Were me and my siblings not good enough? Why hasn’t she come to get me before? Why did she wait 17 years? Will I ever meet her or my siblings?
I wondered how my biological mom was doing now. I felt bad for her. I’ve seen TV shows and movies that made it seem like it’s hard to get off drugs. Maybe if she wasn’t on drugs she would have kept us and she’d be doing better.
I asked about my siblings and she told me that they were adopted by other families. I wondered how they were doing and I wanted to meet them. She told me that it would be good for me to find them so I could get to know them.
Then she said not to go down the same path as my biological mother. “Don’t be a liar. Stay on the right path and keep doing what you’re doing.”
The call bothered me for several weeks. I was angry that my biological mother had lied to the social worker. All this time I don’t hear from you and this is the way you try to contact me? I thought about whether I should try to talk to her, but if this was the way she contacted me, maybe this wasn’t the right time. But it made me want to find my siblings and see how they were doing.
I went in my mom’s room one night and asked her if she would help me find my biological siblings. She looked through her closet to find some papers from my adoption. She gave me a list of their names and I searched for them on Facebook but I didn’t find them. The people who popped up were old. I was disappointed but my mother told me not to worry; I might come across them later in life. Her words comforted me and I let it go, hoping that someday I would find them.
My life is better with the mom who raised me
After that I realized that I couldn’t keep feeling bad because it’s not my fault. After 18 years my biological mom still didn’t have her life together. It made me upset but I used it as motivation. I told myself I will never become like her and that I would always strive to be the best I can be. I don’t think about my biological mother much anymore because my adoptive mother is my mom. She’s done a good job of raising me. If it wasn’t for her where would I be? I wouldn’t have the same opportunities. I’m grateful she pushed me, even when I didn’t want to hear it.
In the spring I got accepted into three Cal States—Dominguez Hills, Northridge and East Bay, which is the school I am currently attending. After graduation I walked out of the tunnel at the Home Depot Center in Carson and saw my mother, sisters, aunts, uncles and neighbors in a circle. They all hugged me and told me how proud they were. My mother was smiling really big. She told me she was proud of me and encouraged me to stay on the right path. Making her proud is one of the best feelings I’ve ever had.
I’m happy I was adopted by my mother. I thank her for all she has done. I’ve learned that if you don’t work hard and go after the things you want, you won’t get them. I want to finish college and get a degree. It would mean a lot to me to show her I’m successful. It’ll be my way of saying thank you for helping me get here.