One of our board members and a former resident, Calvin Temple, recently spoke at the Central Missouri Foster Care & Adoption Association Youth Retreat. If you have not yet heard Calvin’s story, it’s time you did. It’s a story that begins with pain and rejection, like most of the children who walk through our doors; yet it’s finishing with hope and success. Larry McDaniel has often told our children, “We can’t go back in time and change your beginning, but we can help you change your ending.”
Here’s the first of a two part story about how Calvin and those who invested in his life have changed his ending:
Everyone has the same starting and ending point. Birth and death are given to all of us. What we do with that time in between defines our legacy. Fifteen years ago I made the decision to join the Army National Guard. This decision has provided a foundation for me to build on and countless opportunities to succeed. By taking a firm grip on the wheel and embracing the challenges I faced, I have opened the door to success. However, statistics said I had a much lower chance of success.
My journey began like everyone else’s, however, there was a catch. My parents lacked the necessary skills to take care of themselves, much less a child. I was born into a household riddled with a history of abuse, drug use, and neglect. My younger brother and I lived in motels for the first four years of my life. My father physically abused my mother and in turn my mother would take it out on us. I watched as my mother would use drugs, then pass out on the bed and lie there for hours. I constantly tried to earn their love, but they lacked the ability to love themselves, much less me. One day, she simply gave us away to strangers. Our father had abandoned us and she had nothing left to give. She drove us to a restaurant and gave us away. She promised that after she finished rehab, she would get a job and come back for us, but for now we had to go with the strangers. I was destroyed. Although I was only four, the thought that my mother could give us away hurt deeply. Our new parents (Larry and Cathy McDaniel) embraced my brother and I with open arms. We were treated like their own children, taught responsibility and shown love. I grew to love them like my real parents, but I always had my reservations. One wrong move on my part and they would also give me away, wouldn’t they? The abuse stopped, we were given food and clothes, and most importantly we were shown love. It was wonderful for a short while. Three years later, my mom kept her promise and came back for us. As a seven-year-old, my journey once again took an abrupt turn.
Seven-year-old boys should be given the opportunity to play, grow and learn, free from the pressures of adult responsibilities. That was not the case for me. As a second grader living with my biological mother, I was forced to care for myself and my five-year-old brother. My mother was consumed with her addiction and we learned quickly not to ask for her attention. I learned to cook and get my little brother on the bus for school. We struggled in school because we lacked motivation to succeed. Again, I found myself searching for approval and acceptance. I remember asking myself over and over, ‘How I can do better, so people will love me?’
One night, my mom left us. I woke up to find the apartment empty, except for my little brother. Confused and lost, I continued with our daily routine. I would wake my brother, get him ready for school and on the bus, and then come home and cook macaroni and cheese and hotdogs for us. Finally, we ran out of food and I was left with one choice. I had to call Larry and Cathy and tell them our situation.
We were quickly restored to their care and my mother was arrested. Confusion set in as my journey once again changed direction. I was resentful at first, because I felt the restrictions and guidelines at Coyote Hill confined my freedom. I didn’t understand that the rules were made to keep us safe and relieve me from the hardships of trying to parent myself and my little brother. I loved Larry and Cathy as parents and all of us in their home were afforded the opportunity of having a safe place to be a child. Yet, disaster struck again. Cathy was diagnosed with cancer and eventually passed away.
I felt tricked; fooled into thinking this “one big happy family” was going to last. Larry didn’t give up on us, but faced with the challenge of raising six kids by himself he had to make a very difficult choice. For the first time, Coyote Hill hired full-time Home Parents and my brother and I were again living with a new set of parents. It was another adjustment, but I was able to continue to grow and live in a loving home. My journey continued on course for a few more years and then my mother came back into our lives once again.
I was an 11-year-old when my caseworker informed us that we were going back to live with our mother. I was filled with joy initially because I felt like being reunited with my birth mother would make me normal. I had been a foster kid for so long that I was excited to be rid of that title. It felt like a stain to me. Normal kids at school sometimes teased me because I lived in a group home. I was treated differently because of my situation. Now, I was going to be a normal kid and not a foster kid. I had faith that my mother would love me this time and would care for me. Unfortunately, this was not the case. Drug and alcohol abuse reared its ugly head like it had done every other time in the past. I was forced back into a caretaker role for my brother and spent my afternoons after school dodging fists or belts. I learned to do the laundry, cook, and earn money to support my brother. It was challenging but I embraced the challenge and labeled it ‘normal.’ My teachers would ask me how things at home were and I would always have the same answer for them. Things are normal. Sure, mom gets drunk and her boyfriend runs us out of the house so they can be alone, but eventually they pass out and then we can return to the house.
My grades plummeted and I was close to failing the sixth grade. I didn’t have time to worry about school or sports; I had my brother to care for. Things finally came to a head when my brother was attacked. He had eaten the last of the Hamburger Helper I had cooked and my mother was furious. I tried to protect him from the two grown adults, only to be struck in the face and have my head slammed into a wall. Stunned, we did the only thing we knew how to do in that situation. We ran. Our neighbors called the police and my mother and her boyfriend were arrested.
We were foster kids once again. (Read Part 2 of Calvin’s Story.)