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Stories / Youth

Maya seeks consistency; Erika delivers.

Maya* walked warily down the stairs of her foster home and stared at the hardwood floors.

She smiled suspiciously at me—another stranger—and then whispered, “Hi.” When she noticed we both had glitter on our shoes, she asked if I’d like to see her room. Maya couldn’t stop beaming as she showed me her bed, clothes, nail polish and pictures of her biological brothers and sisters. She was so proud. I explained why I was there to meet her and asked if she’d like to hang out with me every week for the next several years. “Years?!” she asked, surprised. “How many?”

“Until you graduate,” I said, and she lit up.

Maya had already moved to three different homes one summer, so when she quizzed me again and again about how long I’d be around, I’d always answer, “Until you graduate.” After hearing that answer, she’d continue reading, painting or cartwheeling.

A couple of weeks after meeting Maya, I bumped into her caseworker. In passing, I asked how Maya was doing, and she said, “Oh, she is being moved tomorrow morning.”

Wait. What? This was a complete shock to me. I couldn’t imagine how it would shock Maya.

The following morning, I went to her foster home to check in with Maya. I knew I should be there when her foster mom broke the last-minute news that she was moving. Again. Maya stared at the walls as she processed the news.

When we were finally alone, I asked Maya how she was doing. Over and over, she said, “Fine,” devoid of all emotion. I told her that it’s okay to be sad, or angry, or even happy. She could have any feelings she liked. She thought for a moment and whispered, “Is it okay to be scared?” I took Maya in my arms and told her, “It is absolutely okay to be scared.”

This wasn’t Maya’s first move, and it most definitely will not be her last. But the next time she faces a new placement, she will have a constant: me. We’ve been together almost a year. Now when I pick Maya up at her new foster home, she rushes me into her room to show me her new nail polish colors, and we make plans about what we want to do next.

*Name changed to protect the privacy of our youth.