NYC250 cover image See all stories from issue #250, January/February 2016

Life Without My Mom
Why I am better off away from her
D. Perry

When I was 12, I learned that my mom was getting out of prison and she wanted me and my three sisters back. For most of my life, I had lived in Rochester, NY, with my Aunt Luana, my cousin Tyraisha, and my little sister Dytajah. My two other sisters were living with relatives in Georgia.

My first reaction was “absolutely not.” She’d missed out on a big part of my life already, and I couldn’t see myself getting hurt again. But another part of me wanted to give my mom a chance, and I began talking to her on the phone. She offered me money for snacks and said she’d like all four of us girls to live with her.

While I was considering living with my mom, my Aunt Luana dropped another bombshell. She sat me down and said, “Sweetie, there’s some things that I need to tell you and it’s not to hurt you.”

I felt worried. “What are they?”

“When you were younger, your mother went to jail for killing Dytajah’s father. She was a bad person. She would shove her knees in your Grandma Gwen’s throat until she couldn’t breathe. I thought you should know these things before you make a decision to go live with her.”

I Wanted a Mom

I was shocked and not sure if I wanted to go with my mother. But another part of me thought that no matter what she did, she was still my mother. I was excited to see her and to reunite with my other sisters, Tazaine and Teahjanae.

Soon after that, we talked on the phone again. “Hello my princess,” my mom said in a sweet voice. She told me she loved us and never meant to hurt us. “We could have the perfect family like I always wanted,” she said. “I’ll take you shopping as soon as you come and I’ll buy you an iPhone and we’ll spend mother and daughter time.”

Hearing those things made me happy, excited, and motivated. “OK. I love you too, ma,” I told her. “We will come.”

At one point, I asked why she had killed her boyfriend, and she explained it was self-defense. I was still worried because I didn’t know her, so I didn’t know if that was true. But either way, I thought she had probably changed because she was locked up a long time and had had time to think. Besides, I was 12, and I wanted a mom. I pushed aside any thought of the bad things she’d done. I was imagining the coolest, sweetest mom, a respectful person, someone I could go to with my problems without her judging me.

Not the Mom of My Fantasies

When we all arrived at her three-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn, she hugged and kissed us. She didn’t work but she went out to pay bills and shop for groceries and clothes. She cooked every night and the meals were so good that I went back for seconds.

But I soon realized she was not the mom of my fantasies. She was unpredictable: She yelled at us over the littlest things, like if we forgot to put tissue back in the bathroom or our music was too loud. Then she would talk all sweet like nothing happened. When she was in a good mood, she took us shopping to buy clothes. We never knew what to expect.

One time I came home two hours after my curfew. I had called to let her know, but when I walked in she punched me in the face and made my nose bleed. I felt scared and sick. I started to wish that I had stayed in Rochester with the family who’d raised me.

I’ve struggled with anger since I was little, and when I reconnected with my mom, my temper got more violent. In middle school I got into fights, cut classes, and didn’t listen to any authority. Sometimes when I raged, I didn’t know what I was doing, and other times I felt I had nothing to lose.

Then, one day when Dytajah was 8, she was getting dressed for school. She wanted to bring a pop tart and a juice box. My mother told her no sweets were allowed in school.

Forced to Lie

image by YC-Art Dept

Dytajah didn’t put the food down, and my mother punched her in the face. Her nose bled and a big knot appeared on her head. I didn’t know what to say or do. I didn’t want my mother to hit me too. Dytajah began to cry. She didn’t even attempt to push my mother’s hands away or fight back. Then she got on her school bus.

My mother called my cell phone while I was at school and warned me that someone from the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) might come get me in school. She told me to lie about her hitting Dytajah. Later on that day, ACS workers came to my school and took me to an office in Manhattan, where I saw my other two sisters. A lady asked me questions like, “What happened to your sister’s head? Why is her nose swollen?” and “Where were you when your mother punched her in her face?”

I was young and I obeyed my mother. I told the ACS lady, “My sister is lying,” and, “I was nowhere around; I was asleep,” and, “I’m not answering any more questions; I don’t know what you’re talking about.” My little sister fell back into tears because she heard me lie. At that moment I knew I was wrong to lie for my mother. And anyway, they didn’t believe me.

In and Out of Foster Care

And so we entered foster care. I was nervous, ashamed, embarrassed, and scared. I was separated from my sisters and placed in an older lady’s home. I cried because everything was so different. I didn’t have my own room, and I was basically in charge of myself.

I was used to my mother waking me up for school and cooking dinner and breakfast for me. She would also take me to the doctor’s and tell me what time to go to bed.

I told my ACS worker that I wanted to go home. Despite my mother’s negative ways, she at least took care of me. So my ACS worker got me sent back to my mother about three months later.

But the problems didn’t go away. One beautiful summer day in 2012, Dytajah and Teahjanae, who were 10 and 11, were playing on the computer while my mom was at the grocery store. My mother had told them that they were too young to be on the Internet, but they had set up an online game account anyway. I told my sisters to get off the computer before my mother got home, but they didn’t.

Then she walked in the door and saw them. “I thought I said no Internet!” she screamed. “Now I’m going to wipe your f-cking asses.” She made my little sisters take off their clothes and she began hitting them with an extension cord.

I began crying. Cuts and bruises sprang up off their skin. They told ACS on my mother again, and we all went back into foster care.

No More Abuse

Since then, my sisters and I have moved from foster home to foster home. Now Dytajah lives at a residential treatment facility upstate, for kids with emotional or behavior issues. Teahjanae lives in the Bronx in a foster home, and I live in Harlem with a foster mom who’s great. She provides me with everything that I need and is helping me prepare for independent living.

My mother signed over her rights for my two younger sisters this year. She couldn’t sign her rights over for me because I am now 18 and considered an adult. At first I was sad and angry that my mother would do that. I was mad at her for being a bad mother and afraid I wouldn’t know where my little sisters would be living and if they were OK. But now I’m not as upset. In fact, I think it’s good: She allowed them to enter a better situation.

For the past four years, I kept giving my mother chances to be a mom. But she always lets me down by her actions or words. I can’t please her: When I wore a new shirt, she said, “How did you get that shirt? Did you steal it?” When I got 100 on a test in school, she asked, “Did you cheat?”

Being around someone like that makes you doubt yourself, so now we rarely speak to each other. Since I’ve been away from her, I feel more positive. I can accomplish more. I go to school every day and I am motivated to graduate this year on time. I have to move on from her to be a stronger person, because I might be a mother myself one day.

Everything I do now is for my sisters and me. They need someone to look up to, and that’s going to be me. Despite my mother’s bad example and abuse, I am working on controlling my anger and respecting myself and my little sisters.

I am now doing a paid internship and trying to qualify for housing. Then I hope to go to college and get a job. I have made some bad choices and decisions in my life. Now, I’m dealing with my anger in therapy, and I see ways to get to a better future. I am determined not to end up like my mom.