This essay is the non-fiction winner of the 2019 KYD School Writing Prize – read Maxine Beneba Clarke and Rebecca Starford’s judge’s report, and the fiction winner, ‘Ovals, Ovals’ by Faye Velasquez.
Welcome to my normal life. I live in a foster house with my full biological siblings and one foster sister. As the eldest of my biological siblings, I have seen a lot; bullying, harassment, abuse, manipulation and many court cases. Living in a foster home isn’t easy with fights and squabbles every day on top of school and friends.
I live in a, well, semi-stressful household and have to deal with issues like Family and Community Services, and having government employees come to our house to inspect it. I have been to court many times for different reasons: to stay with my siblings, to remove someone as my foster caregiver, and to be able to stay at one house instead of moving continuously. It may not be normal to others, but that’s my life. That’s my normal.
Behind all this is a lot of trauma and a bad past. I experienced alcohol and drug abuse from when I was a foetus. I was sexually abused when I was 5. Normal? I thought it was, but it doesn’t seen normal now. Everything seems normal until you see what other people’s normal looks like, and have an understanding of what has made us different. As the saying goes, don’t judge a book by its cover.
I am a student leader at my school, but not one of those fancy captains or house leaders with the fancy badges and meetings. I have the role of helping promote Indigenous voices, but that’s not the main point of this story. I may not have the worst life, but I wouldn’t call it the best. I have to stand up for my siblings as well as myself from bullies. I try my best at school and do my school work… to a degree! I am a stubborn young boy who wants to be a lawyer.
What’s the ‘normal’ reason for a child to want to be a lawyer? Is it because it sounds fun or interesting, or high-paying? Or is normal a child wanting to be a lawyer to get justice for those who cannot get it properly, because he understands unfairness and injustice?
Everything seems normal until you see what other people’s normal looks like, and have an understanding of what has made us different.
Normal is defined as ‘conforming to a standard that is usual, typical or expected’. But how can something be ‘typical’ or ‘expected’ when the world is a mysterious and unpredictable place, and everything is unexpected? If that’s true, how do we define normal? For most of us, normal is what we want to happen or what we believe should happen. Life isn’t ‘normal’ or ‘expected’, especially when these ‘standards’ aren’t met. Like living in a house that is safe. Well yes, I do live in a house that’s safe. Now I do, before I did not. Now I know that normal is having your mum say ‘I love you’ every day, and having her kiss you on the forehead. Now I know that normal is having food on the table every day, and coming home to a nice warm bed with fresh, clean sheets.
But I also have another normal. That’s my birth mum admitting that she still does drugs, despite knowing what they can do to you. Having your friends not understand your situation sometimes, or teachers even. Having your family bullied for being ‘adopted’ when you’re not, but just actually in foster care. My other normal, I always say.
Here’s what I want you to know. I want you to know the facts before you insult someone. Know the difference between foster care and adoption. Like, just because I’m Aboriginal, doesn’t mean I always get ‘special treatment’. Like being called Four Eyes when your lenses are bifocal. Guess what! I’m actually Six Eyes!
I like to say that when someone insults you and they’ve got it wrong, insult them back with what they’ve missed. There is always more to the story; all you have to do is ask.
A couple of times at school, when I’ve had the chance to write about foster care and kids who have it tough like me, I’ve taken it, even if it meant doing the more research and extra work. It can also be emotionally challenging, but I do it because I want people to understand what the true definition of normal is for me, for my siblings and my fellow friends in foster care.
One thing I hate about my ‘normal’ school friends is their ideas around the sort of things they think a foster kid with a ‘bad’ life should have or do. I recently got an Apple Watch – and whenever I pull it out to check the time I get insulted for ‘flexing’ or showing off. Yeah, sure it’s expensive – and I’m ‘spoiled’ because I live in a foster house? Yeah, right. I’m not trying to brag or show off, I’m simply using my things. There are plenty of other kids who have nice stuff who don’t get bullied like this. Wanna know why this happens? Because it’s not ‘normal’ for a kid with a bad past or who doesn’t live with his real parents and is supported by the government to have things ‘normal’ kids would have. But it’s not right that we see the world this way. What, just because I’m not ‘normal’ I can’t have ‘normal’ things?
One thing I hate is people’s ideas around the sort of things they think a foster kid with a ‘bad’ life should have or do.
Some may say this is a rant or an attempt to get sympathy, but I say it’s a message. And the truth about messages is this: you can never expect what you’re going to get out of them. Like in a text when those three dots come up, who knows what they’re gonna write. Was it about the bad thing you did today – did someone see you? Is it about your grades, your family, your upcoming court case, or that your homework was due a week ago and you’re about to get in trouble? I guess we’ll never know until they press send.
Like when you get your court dates in the mail, or a letter for your family to tell you that another kid has been born and they need to be put in foster care. Is it your sibling? Maybe a cousin? They’ve got to be related to you; after all, the letter was sent to you…or was it? Was it just addressed wrong and you’ve opened some else’s mail? It’s got to happen to everyone, it’s normal…right? No? So what do we do when something isn’t normal? In my experience we treat it disrespectfully and like it doesn’t belong.
You probably noticed that I said ‘it’ just now. Maybe you thought I was talking about some object that was different…yeah, I was. A human treated like an object and not seen like a person. And why? Oh, because they’re in foster care. Because they aren’t ‘normal’. This is the poor life some foster kids have to go through and it’s not good – and guess what else it isn’t? It isn’t normal. So what should we do? We should admire them, take in their experiences and feel empathy for them – because they’re human and deserve respect.
One last thing: not a nice thing, but a true thing.
This is a true story. My name is Bryce Groves. I may not be your type of ‘normal’, but I am my own type of normal. And I will tell this to anyone who says otherwise: Don’t judge a book by its cover, and don’t expect everything to always be normal – because nothing ever truly is.