Aisling is almost 22 years old, a veteran of the shelter system.  She self-describes as a Visible Minority of aboriginal descent – in contrast to the rest of her family, whom she left at a young age.  She presented as high-energy with a shellac of bravado, but with an excellent sense of humour.  She was in tears for much of the interview, evidently deeply wounded by the loss of custody of her children, ages three and two, to their father, but also struggling with hopelessness and the fear that her history would define her destiny. 

FM: Start with telling me a bit about your family, composition, where they lived, how they supported themselves, etc. etc. etc...

Okay.  My mom was a single mom.  She worked whatever job she could, I suppose.  We were supported by welfare and whatever means she could come up with.  She met my dad when I was seven and then we moved to [a small town south of Farm County].  Lived there for six months and then we moved to [a small village very close to Middletown] and lived there until I was 14.  My dad is a tool and die maker, factory in [a city to the south].  When I was nine they got married and we all lived together until I was 14 when I moved out and moved to [the city my dad worked in] briefly. 

FM: Before you go on, any sibs?

My sister, she’s two years younger than me.  We have the same birthday.  We don’t talk any more. 

FM: And the man you called ‘dad’ is not the biological father of either of you?

No, we both have different biological fathers, none of which we’re involved with. 

FM: So [talk about the move at age 14 to the town where your dad worked].

I moved back home briefly.  Got into some legal issues.  Became temporary custody of [child welfare] and was moved to [a youth shelter] in Middletown and I still live here.

FM: Go back a bit:  What motivated that first move out of the parental home?

I was 14, I thought that I was a genius and wanted to do what I wanted to do when I was 14 which was party and hang out with my friends all the time so that was what I did.  I moved in with a friend and his family and I lived there for a bit and then back home.

FM: Were you going to school at the time?

No, I don’t think I was.  I wasn’t in school.  I didn’t start back in school until I came to [the youth shelter].

FM: By law you’re supposed to be in school at 14.  Why not? 

I didn’t really like schools – schools didn’t know about me when I moved to [the city] so I didn’t have a truancy officer after me.

FM: So you were at school in [your home village]?

We were bussed to Middletown for school. 

FM: And that’s where no one knew where you were, so no one was on your case to go to school?

Yes. 

FM: So [child welfare] got involved because, lemme guess, your parents were fed up with trying to keep you in line?

I was suspended multiple times for drug and alcohol abuse, and after so many times, [child welfare] got involved.

FM: When did you start to mess with drugs and alcohol, what age?

Alcohol probably about 11 the first time I smoked pot and drank whisky.  We were bored country kids. 

FM: But not all bored country kids begin to drink and drug at 11; Why were you an early adopter, d’ya think? 

Ummm, I grew up around my mom – neither of my parents have smoked pot but my mother uses prescription drugs and my father drinks but I’ve never seen him drunk.  I thought that would just help me be more comfortable while I grew up. 

FM: You’re First Nations; Was cultural identity a factor in the discomfort of growing up? 

Yeah.  Not too many coloured folks in the country.  And actually I’m the darkest person in my family. 

FM: Are both your parents aboriginal?

No, my biological father is. 

FM: And just him, not either other parent?

My dad’s Dutch and my mother’s English. 

FM: Okay so I can see that you would not look like you belonged in that family.  What about your sister?

She’s whiter than all hell.

FM: Okay, so you’re a visible minority within your own family?  Wow.  That must really be something.

Yeah.

FM: What is it?  What does do to your sense of identity? Belonging?

Umm, you don’t really have that sense of identity, I guess.  I always knew I was different.  I didn’t even find out I was aboriginal until I was 12 years old.  I know that sounds really strange.  I just thought I was dirty:  when me and my sister would wash our hands together, I would always wonder why mine didn’t come through, because hers were always white and sparkly. 

FM: And at school? 

I grew up in the country and there ain’t no black folks there; I was about as black as they come.  People would wonder and obviously thought it was a complicated situation.  Even when I was a kid, I knew what a half-breed meant.

FM: Were you considered ‘exotic’ or sub-standard or just weird? 

I would have to say exotic or weird.  Because I always had a way of sticking out like a sore thumb.  I guess that’s just how my daddy raised me.

FM: Feisty? 

Yeah. 

FM: Okay, so if you came into [child welfare] care under temporary wardship at age 14 – weren’t you too young to be at [the youth shelter]?

No, you have to – I was about 14 to 15 when I got involved with [child welfare].  They were involved for some time before I got put into the youth shelter. 

FM: Foster homes?

No, I wasn’t eligible because of the reason being involved – foster homes don’t want to take a kid who is pretty set to do their own thing. 

FM: Right, they would more likely go the group home route.

Which I never had to do and I’m glad.  The youth shelter is probably one of the best things that happened to me.   The shelter and [associated alternate school program]. 

FM: Why is that?  What did they do for you that you particularly needed?

They didn’t give up on trying to fix me or help me in spite of the fact that I fought them every step along the way.  If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t have my kids, I wouldn’t have my job, I wouldn’t have my beautiful apartment, I would never have met the man I’m going to marry.  It’s funny how things turn out. 

FM: Would you go into a bit more detail about exactly how that story rolled out?

Oh, I – it’s a long time ago – I’m going to be 22 in December, it’s a long time.  I went to the [alternate school] because I was eligible through the [youth shelter].  Didn’t do too much school, mostly met people, partied, even though I was a resident and I had gotten kicked out and stripped of PNA (personal needs allowance) and anything else they could take from me.  And when I aged out and turned 16, I got into more legal troubles and tried to keep in school as much as I could to try and keep out of trouble, but I always had a way of finding it. 

FM: You still drinking and drugging at this point in the story? 

God yes, by the time I was 15 I was using Oxycontin, using cocaine, drinking as much as I could, crack cocaine.  Drugs take you places that you don’t want to go back [to].  Sometimes you do.  Some people do.  So eventually I changed.

FM: Just to clarify, how long or what ages would you say you were seriously abusing substances?

From the time I was probably 13 to 16, 17.  I quit using crack cocaine and Oxycontain on Mother’s Day weekend when I was 17.

FM: What’s the significance of that date?  If any. 

I came home from using prescription drugs with my mom and it caused a big fight between me and my children’s father (before we had children) and that day just stays with me because I just realized how bad it really was.  I remember I was attempting to smoke crack and I lost it, I looked all over the ground, I was freaking out and everyone around me who was smoking crack told me to quit acting like a crackhead.  I’ll never forget that.

FM: As bottoming out goes, that quite dramatic.  And we’re laughing even though it’s very sad. 

It is sad but I always say we can’t laugh we’ll cry. 

FM: Okay, and did you use any help getting clear of the drugs?

I had been to rehab probably three times before I got clean on my own.  If it wasn’t for my boyfriend at the time, I don’t think I could have done it. 

FM: Residential rehab? 

I suppose it would have been a day program. 

FM: But didn’t work for you?

No, because people even bring drugs to rehab, so it’s fickle.

FM: And people don’t change until they decide to. 

That is one thing that my ex-boyfriend taught me.  People don’t change unless they want to.

FM: Talk about him a bit, his part in your life. 

The day I met him I had a miscarriage and I was pretty much homeless.  I was abusing psychedelic drugs and alcohol and he was with one of my friends, carrying a case of beer, and I told him he was getting me drunk.   When we started hanging out and he heard about my situation, he offered to let me stay with him.  I guess he could tell I needed help because I’d been kicked out of every shelter in town at the time because of my drug use. 

FM: You’re crying.  What in that story makes you cry?  The miscarriage?

No, I didn’t even know I was pregnant until I miscarried.  I guess it’s him.  Because things change and people change.

FM: And he’s your ex, he’s no longer in your life.

He is a part of my life, every day.  He’s the father of my children, I spent 4 ½ years of my life with him, my son looks exactly like him. 

FM: How is he gone, or how did he go or how did you lose him?

We had a terrible relationship.  We were just stupid kids.  We didn’t even know ourselves and we didn’t know anything about life.  We wanted to be together. We wanted to have kids.  We never planned the kids but they were the best part of it. 

FM: Do they still live with you?

On weekends.  For now.  We’re in court. 

FM: I’m sorry to poke around in what is obviously a very sensitive area, but it would be helpful to understand that sequence of events, of getting straight, having kids, being together, not being together. 

I was clean six months when I got pregnant with my oldest son, and we weren’t actually allowed within 50 feet of each other because I’d punched him in the face. 

FM: Does he also have a problem with drink/drugs and where’s he at on that?

I don’t know who he is any more.  I don’t know anything about him anymore.  I just know I want him to be happy and that’s why we’re not together because we were not happy together.  We were a mess. 

FM: So it started off on the wrong foot and sorta stayed there? 

Yeah.  But I could have sworn I was going to be with that man forever.  I tried, I really did, to make it work.

FM: But he dumped you? 

I guess so. 

FM: You’d have him back in a trice if what?

No.  No.  It wouldn’t be fair to me.  Don’t get me wrong.  It’s very strange.  As angry as I am at him, and as hurt as we both are, I still love him as the father of my children.  And he’s a great person.  Sometimes.  But we’re not – you can love somebody and not be in love with them

FM: And not be good together?

Yeah. 

FM: I’m gathering your kids are in [child welfare]?

No.  He has them.  We’ve never wanted [child welfare] involved.  We didn’t want them ending up like I did.  I’m supposed to have the every weekend but right now it’s every other weekend because he doesn’t want to. 

FM: And he’s the boss?  Who gives him custody of your children?

Neither of us has custody.  We have a temporary order.  He has them during the week because I work and I’m supposed to have them every weekend. 

FM: Is this arrangement because of the legal difficulties you referred to?

No.  After I had my daughter I was so depressed and I got my tubes tied because I thought this was it, we were going to be a family, no more kids.  And everything came crashing down on me.  I felt like a single mom with a 24-year-old on the video games all day.  It’s difficult.  And when he said he didn’t love me any more I thought it was going to kill me. 

FM: What age are your kids now?

My son just turned three and my daughter is going to be two in January.  [shows pictures]

FM:  I’m not sure where to go with this.  Usually I’d go romping through you lived here and you lived there, but I’m not sure that that is the point of this story.  I’m wondering if the -

I moved to Littletown briefly actually when I was pregnant with my son, until he was one.  Because their father went to college in Littletown.

FM:  Tell me a bit about him, his background and what he does and...

He came from a big family, 4 girls, one boy, he was the only boy, two moms, he lived in [a small village in Lake County, that’s where he grew up.  And he came to Middletown because he was in jail or something.  Actually one of his sisters accused him of molesting her and then he was caught drinking and driving or something and he pulled a gun on her – a different sister. 

FM: So not a happy family?

Neither of us came from a perfect family and we didn’t make a perfect family and I guess our kids are destined for the same fate. 

FM: But a bit back, you were painting a fairly rosy picture – school, job, apartment. 

That’s now.  Ever since I haven’t been with him, my life has been a thousand times better except for the fact that I don’t wake up and see my kids every morning.  If I had that, I’d have everything. 

FM: What stands between now and having that? 

I’ve been to therapy, groups, worked some of the most vulgar jobs I’ve ever had to work.  I graduated high school.  I’m with an amazing man.  I have a beautiful home.  I know I’m a better person now than I was a year ago.  But the way that the courts go, I just have to keep working hard. 

FM: And this is Family court, not [child welfare]?

No [child welfare] involvement.

FM: Just a really nasty custody battle.

Pretty much.

FM: Is your ex older than you?

Yes.  Four or five years older than me.

FM: And is he settled in work and a home and all that regularity?

No.  He’s on welfare. Pretty much all he has to do is take care of the kids.

FM: Has he got a new partner?

Not that I know of.  I can’t really imagine any woman being compatible and …. I can’t find the words.

FM: What has me flummoxed here is that it looks like you’re doing a lot of things right but can’t win for losing.  What is that about?  

The story of my life.  [laughs]  pretty much…  I never used to be a very simple person but I have evolved to being a simpler person and being satisfied with small simple things, working hard.  When I get to see my kids I make sure I’m the best mom I can be.  I’m a good – I take good care of the people that I love.  My partner.  My kids, that’s everything to me and I do everything I can for them and I always will.

FM: Did you ever get any help with this dilemma of loving what’s bad for you? 

It’s very true that I have a tendency to do that.

FM: I’ve heard people say who’ve had a go-round with drugs, that that is a theme that they discovered as they began to straighten out their life, first the drugs – love ‘em but they’re bad for you – and then relationships

Relationships, yeah, love ‘em but they’re bad for you.   That’s one of the things with all the changes I’ve made in the last year.  The man I love isn’t perfect but he is perfect for me.  He’s a lot like my daddy but he’s more fun.  He works hard.  He loves me to death and he loves my kids. 

FM: So this is not the ex, this is your current guy? 

Yes. 

FM: So tell me how he came into your life?

We come back to [the alternate school].  We were in construction class together and I have had a crush on him since I was 16 years old, in high school.  But he did too.  I was way too into my children’s father to see anything else. 

FM: So he’s from your childhood?

Yes he is.  Still makes me feel like I’m 16 every day.

FM: In a good way?

Yes. 

FM: So let me go again at what 

Happened between my ex and him?

FM: Yeah.  Tell me.

Well, the week that I moved out I came back to the shelter with my tail between my legs.  I never thought I’d end up back here.  But I guess he’d just had a similar bad breakup and he was driving by the shelter and I remember the sound of the tires, he hit the brakes so hard.  And he ran up to me and hugged me and said that he was taking me out.  Started out as friends reconnecting and then we started feeling like we did when we were in high school, just hanging out a lot, having a lot of fun.  I fell in love with him and he fell in love with me.  And they lived happily ever after.

FM: Okay, so now I understand I think...  The father of your children is not going to let you have them while you’re with another man.

He is very possessive.  Plus we all used to live together in the same apartment building.  We were all friends.  We all lived together and they never got along.  My current partner never agreed with how he [my ex] treated me.  We laugh about it now.  The only reason why my ex ever hung out with us was that he was with me and I was the cool one.  

FM: So …  you’ve had trouble with the law as a juvenile.

I’ve never been charged as an adult.

FM: And the father of your kids, also trouble with the law?

Yes.

FM: As a juvenile or an adult?

An adult. 

FM: And your current partner?

Never had trouble with the law.  No, actually, I think he got charged with mischief or something when we were kids.  Well, I met him when I was 16 so he had to have been 18 or 19 when we met.  I’m not sure, I think he was charged with something miniscule.

FM: And his relationship with drink/drugs? 

He drinks.  He doesn’t like pot.  He didn’t even smoke until we started dating.  He had quit for two years.  His mom was mad as all hell.

FM: That sort of takes me back to some questions about your current relationship with your parents and sister – you said you don’t talk to her, but what about reconciling with your parents.  Anything there? 

I talk to my dad all the time, always talk to daddy.    My mom, because of the drugs I didn’t talk to her, because of my kids.  Until last Thursday when she is in a car accident, actually with one of the charitable organizations in town.

FM: Do you mean she was driving one of their vehicles?

One of their drivers hit her.  

FM: Goodness!!!!  Is she badly hurt?

She’ll be all right. 

FM: Okay, so just to summarize a little bit.  Left home 14, basically on the streets and drugging badly to age 

17, then got clean, got pregnant at 18, moved to Littletown for a year, got pregnant with my second child, moved back here, split with the father of my children when my daughter was four months old, not even, and been with the love of my life since then.  Working at [the shelter] part-time, I just graduated high school, I can’t afford to go to college.  I work at a recycling sorting plant; Pretty much I sort garbage all day.

FM: Lemme guess: minimum wage? 

We’ve got a winner.  Living the dream!

FM: Okay, I have some finish-up questions.  Ready?  To help the people who will read this story to understand it, would you give it some focus and shape by saying what you think is the Most Important Event in this story.  Could be something that happened, or something that didn’t happen.  But it’s the thing that the story pivots on.  What is that, in your opinion? 

[long pause]  

Most important in the story is my kids.  If it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t have graduated, wouldn’t work, I’d be dead, I wouldn’t have a reason to live, I wouldn’t have gotten off drugs if it wasn’t for them.  If it wasn’t my kids, then it was those people [at the shelter and the alternate school] because they actually saw something I didn’t.

FM: And still do, it seems to me, see a you that you’re not sure about yet.  Yeah?

Yeah.  They all wanted me to be a social worker but I don’t have the money to do it so I do it for free.  I volunteer [at the shelter] and clean the school, and talk with the kids, and they KNOW, they listen, because I’ve been where they are and I kicked the shit out of it. 

FM: Okay.  Second finish-up question is: The people who read this story will want to know how it ends up, they’ll want ‘closure’.  So how, in your opinion, is this story going to unfold?  Good?  Not so good? 

Well, once everything is settled in court then we can finally start moving on with making arrangements for the wedding and we’re hoping to have a house in the next five – seven years, another vehicle.  And we are actually planned on getting my tubes untied and having a baby, our own baby.

FM: You never said, what does he do for a living?

He is a woodworker at a factory that makes wooden crates, right now, but his heart is in construction.  He’s like the most beautiful hillbilly I’ve ever seen.  Redneck I guess. It’s weird, he’s pretty much the same as I am, left home and came to the city.  When we were young, all we could think about what moving to the city, how great it would be.  Now all we can think about is moving back to the country, just having a little patch of land. 

FM: It is ironic.  Do you think that will happen?

I know it will.  We’re hard working people and we know what we want so I know we’ll get there.  We already got the truck and the kids; all we need is the house and the dogs. 

FM: Okay.  Two advice questions.  First one:  What advice would you give to your younger self, whether or not your younger self would take that advice, what advice would you give?  

Go see [shelter/school staff]. 

FM: So they’re your fairy god-mothers?

Yeah.  Definitely.  They are two very amazing women who care a lot about every kid who walks through this door, and I was lucky enough to be one of them. 

FM: I can see that from your story.  And it will get nice profile, so thank you for that.  And now…last question:  What advice would you give to those of us who would like to be helpful, useful, to youth like yourself, to help stories like yours have a better probability of a better outcome or an easier time? 

You have to care.  You have to actually care!  You have to see this person and see this kid in front of you and not think about he or she looks like or the things that they say or the things that they do because they’re scared.  They’re terrified.  They want someone to care.  They want someone who will stop at pretty much nothing to help them.  Which is pretty much what [shelter/school staff] did for me.  They gave me a mom when my mom couldn’t be a mom.  And I think that’s what helped me the most when I had to do what I had to do.  And now I don’t even have to ask them, I just hear their voices in my head saying everything’s going to be all right, just smarten up, just get my shit together.  I can’t imagine what this place would be like without them.  I don’t know if they even know how many kids they’ve saved. 

FM: The world’s a better place because of them.  Yeah?

The world’s a better place because they influenced me to be like that.  I think that’s what makes me be a better mom, be a better person. 

FM: Okay, that’s me… Anything else you want to add? 

People higher up in the ‘food chain’ shouldn’t let politics or administration or whatever ever come between helping somebody.  Because that’s so wrong and I see it all the time.  People have their hands tied and either can’t or won’t help because of regulations or red tape, policies and administration. 

FM: So people first.  Always. 

I don’t think it should be just ‘no child is left behind’, it should be ‘no one is left behind’.  Children grow up to be adults and some adults still feel like children inside. 

FM: Right on.  Okay, are we done?

I think so. 

FM: I’m whupped, and I’ll bet you are too.