Have you ever stopped to take a second and think about why people do the things they do? Why do they dress a certain way? Why do they listen to the music they listen to? Why do they act the way they do? Why do people naturally gravitate towards people who are similar to them?
I know it sounds like a pretty obscure and philosophical question but in my opinion the answer is quite simple.
The reason people do anything is to fit in.
Everyone wants to feel like they belong. We all have an uncontrollable need to conform and merge with a group that makes us feel welcomed, comfortable, and connected. No one wants to be the odd one out. Unfortunately, fitting in isn’t always something we can control.
Growing up while being a foster kid makes it incredibly difficult to find “your people” and fit in. I personally can attest to this. We all know how cruel kids can be. Scratch that… People in general can be cruel even if you’re a “regular” person. Whatever that means. Anyways, throw in being a second class citizen in today’s society and you might as well have a target painted on your back.
All my life I felt like I grew up with a giant neon sign plastered on my forehead that flashed “FOSTER KID” over and over. No matter how hard I tried to fit in it always seemed like I was different and didn’t quite blend in as well as I would have liked. Walking down the hallways in school it was almost as if I carried a stench on me. Hanging heavy like a cloud of noxious gas that surrounded me, acting as a warning sign to the other kids – this kid is nothing but trouble. I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts that foster care was the single most isolating thing that I’ve ever experienced. I’ll stand by that for the rest of my life. Being a foster kid didn’t allow for me to “click” with other kids. I didn’t get to have sleep overs with the other girls in my class – unless their parents would agree to undergoing a background check through the county. Believe me, not a lot of parents jumped at that. Shocking. I didn’t get to go on family vacations. I didn’t have a family and none of my numerous foster families took us on vacations. Christmas break was more just a week of sitting in the foster parent of that month’s house and feeling my heart ache for my real family while I watched their biological kids open their gifts. Those are just a couple example but I could go on forever. Just the act of existing in foster care in itself is an act of being a social outcast. Missing out on all that normalcy was heartbreaking.
I’ll be honest for a minute here… Going through years of being a social reject and missing out on normal kid and teenage things eventually made me a little jaded. Even now after lots of therapy and trying to make up for lost time I can’t help but feel a little salty. However, one of the most therapeutic things I have experience as a survivor of foster care is connecting with my alumni family. The first time I was in a room surrounded by other people who grew up how I grew up I went home and cried – that’s a pretty big deal! I’m not typically an emotional person. Now that I think about it that’s probably a side effect of foster care. After I let it sink in I had an epiphany. That day was the first time I had ever truly experience normalcy. Not the normalcy that society has always told us is the norm. My own very real and true normalcy. Normalcy for me has never been the princess tea party with family and friends. My normalcy was my parents being so strung out and high that they forgot me at the grocery store for over an hour. Normalcy for me was never growing up with the same friends since we were kids. My normalcy was 15 different schools over the course of 8 years. After I met other alumni of foster care it felt like something in me finally clicked into place and healed. I have spent so much time and energy trying to fit into a mold of normal that I could never squeeze into. All this time the normal I needed was the normal I grew up with. Just knowing that I really wasn’t alone and that there is a solid group of people out there who have the same dark and sick sense of humor that I do because of the circumstances we grew up in. Believe me, foster kid jokes are enough to make most people cringe.
After meeting this group of foster alumni I realized I wanted more. Connecting with people who have had a similar past, after living for so long feeling isolated, was one of the most validating and moving things I’ve ever experienced. For once I felt like I didn’t need to fit into societies box of what normal is. Having an alumni network is an opportunity to create our own definition of normalcy. When you’re with a group of people who deeply and truly understand you with all the ugly of your past… THAT feels normal.
Sometime has passed now since that initial meeting and aside from the normalcy and connected-ness there have been other lasting side effect. Connecting with this family of alumni has been the most overwhelming wave of support I have ever received. There has been more than one occasion where I have been going through a tough time or needed some advice and one of my alumni brothers and sisters has called me to be there for me. I don’t think I can emphasize how deep my gratitude goes for my foster alumni. This past year I have leaned on my network for job leads, references, emotional support, socializing, and inspiration. Meeting other alumni has been like meeting family I didn’t even know that I had but that I desperately needed. The more alum I meet the more I want to reach out to and connect.
A big reason I keep writing and sharing my story is because of my foster alumni. I share my stories because they make me feel like it needs to be heard. I’ve been able to see the way my stories have touched and moved others and it motivates me to keep posting. Being a part of a network of foster alumni has inspired me heavily in many of the things I do.
I’d like to highlight and name some of my foster alumni that have greatly touch my life they also happen to be the other co-founders and board members of Foster Alum Minnesota.
First I’d like to mention Joanne.
She has inspired me to handle shit like a boss. Over the time I’ve gotten to know her I’ve watched her juggle working, volunteering, advocating, and being a mom. Might I add she does it all with such grace.
Next is Rashad.
He has inspired me to stand up for myself and speak what’s on my mind. This man holds nothing back and sometimes I’m taken back by it but I also listen in awe. He has taught me to speak up because people will listen and they do want my input.
Then there is Jessica.
Jess has inspired me to practice self-care and how to say no. I am constantly amazed by how easily she can prioritize her life and business. She is always making sure she is carving out good quality time to spend with her son and taking time out of a never stopping work to recharge her battery. She inspires me to slow down and make sure I’m okay before I agree to more.
Next up is Hank.
Hank has inspired me to keep going, always. Honestly, I don’t think this man every stops. He is the king of getting back up. I’m definitely the type of person to dwell if things aren't going my way. He has shown me true perseverance and in my opinion the energizer bunny needs to be his personal mascot.
Lastly, all my other alumni.
Please know if you’re reading this that you inspire me. Every day that you exist you inspire me. Life has given you the short end of the stick yet here you are. There are countless times that you could have given up and let it be the end but you pushed on. I’m inspired by your strength, resilience, and determination.
Alumni family (and friends) – I will leave you with this. I encourage you to reach out and join an alumni network and experience firsthand the profound connections, support, and inspiration your alumni family has to offer.
If you’re in Minnesota, I encourage you to click the link below and join Foster Alum Minnesota.