Star is a young-looking 20-year-old, the partner of Justin who had earlier participated in the research. At that time, the couple and their 4-month old baby were staying with friends in Littletown after being kicked out of the ‘family farm’ in a small settlement 20 minutes away. Two months later, at the time of this interview, they are couch-surfing in Middletown and have lost custody of their son to her mother, under child welfare supervision. Star, an only child within an extended family, felt she was raised ‘on lockdown’ in the country with a mother who perhaps neglected her. She had difficulty with authority from a young age, began drinking at 9, and considers marijuana use essential to managing her behaviour. A bright spot in her life was playing hockey. She is struggling with wanting ‘freedom’ but at the same time qualifying to regain care of her child.
FM: Start by telling me a bit about your family – where you were raised, who was in the family, how they supported themselves, etc.
My family would be my mom and the dog. I had a dad – I just didn’t get to see him. My mom has been in and out of work for, like, all my life, doing all kinds of jobs. Where I lived with my mom and my dog, 30 seconds away was my grandparents, so they helped raise me too. And at one point the whole family lived on the same property. Mom had a hard time supporting us, so my grandparents did a lot of it.
FM: And this was where?
[A small settlement in lake country].
FM: And how did your grandparents make a living?
My grandpa worked construction and my grandma owned the residential property that we lived in.
FM: Can you explain ‘residential property’ a bit?
It’s like half trailers, half houses, and it’s mainly for the older people who require [living] out in the country.
FM: So it’s like a housing development, and the people there rent the property from your grandmother?
FM: So is that a fairly good living?
For her, yes. For me, no. I did work for her, though. I cut grass and did maintenance to pay for my hockey.
FM: This is when you were how old?
Started when I was 14.
FM: Okay, so talk a bit about when and how you thought about leaving the rural area in which you were raised.
Actually, I’ve wanted to leave all my life because I was on what my friends called lock-down, where my mom wouldn’t let me leave the property, hang out with friends. I wasn’t allowed to do much. But it wasn’t until I was 18 that I got off.
FM: Talk a bit more about why you were on lock-down.
My mom was over-protective, wouldn’t let me explore my freedom.
I really don’t know. I wasn’t allowed changing my looks at all, like getting tattoos, piercings. I couldn’t even eat what I wanted to half the time. After my Nan died, I started rebelling, so that’s when things started going my way, when I started rebelling. And I just didn’t care, I’d just take off and get drunk and high.
FM: And how old were you at this time?
FM: Give me a bit more context. Were you attending school?
I was going to school, I wasn’t at school, though. I was down by [a bridge in Littletown] most of the time. That’s where we’d usually drink and get high. Or we’d just walk around town smoking a joint.
FM: Before your Nan died, did you go to school, were you more manageable, were you happier?
I wasn’t happier. I was a little bit more manageable, but I still was smoking weed and drinking, but I’d at least come home at the end of the day.
FM: So what age were when you started smoking and drinking?
I was 9 when I started drinking, and I was 16 when I started smoking weed and 14 when I started smoking cigarettes.
FM: Okay, so that’s young, to start drinking. What was that about?
Barn parties at my uncle’s. The adults would be in the barn having a good old time, and the kids would just go take drinks and hide by the bridge. It wasn’t so much a big deal at the time, because, like, it was before my cousin turning into an alcoholic. And they didn’t mind if we did it as long as we didn’t cause problems or anything.
FM: So when did your cousin ‘turn into an alcoholic’ and how did people know that?
Because after his parents got divorced and all of his savings, money he had from working for his dad, just went bye-bye.
FM: And how old was he, then?
He was about 16, fully, when he was an alcoholic.
FM: Is he still in your life?
FM: Okay, back to you. So you’re 17, out of your mom’s control, not doing much at school – using the bus as a taxi, basically, sounds like...
FM: And how did you make the move out of home?
I went to a therapist meeting and had my friend’s mom drive me in, because my friend was at her mom’s visiting and she was going back into Littletown, so I caught a ride with her. And after my meeting, I went back to my boyfriend’s house – but he wasn’t my boyfriend at the time -- and partied for a little bit. And my DD (designated driver) was no longer my DD and I couldn’t find a ride home, so I stayed the night. My mom called my boyfriend’s cell phone and said You’re kicked out because I wasn’t home to take care of the dog when she had to go to Toronto. But I had to go to my meeting, so it’s not all my fault.
FM: Just a bit of context here. How far out of Littletown is [your home]?
About 15-20-minute drive.
FM: And did you go to high school in Littletown?
Yes. It was during the summer, though, I got kicked out.
FM: Did you do elementary school closer to home?
It’s still about the same distance but opposite way.
FM: How big is [your village]? What’s there?
A convenience store, a fire station, that’s about it.
FM: Okay, so summer, mom says you’re kicked out, then what?
My boyfriend asked me if I wanted to live with him, so he pretty much took me in the first day he met me and we’ve been together ever since.
FM: And when was that?
August 2 of 2010.
FM: Okay, so 1 and a half years ago, and you’re 20 now.
FM: So what has you life been like since you left home?
Well, up until my son was born, a party. Lots of weed smoked. Not so much alcohol, though. But mainly weed.
FM: Even while you were pregnant?
FM: What’s the thinking on that among your gang?
Like smoking weed? We smoke weed to calm ourselves down because a lot of us are over-hyper angry people who smoke weed to help calm us down rather than use prescription drugs or talk to a therapist who doesn’t understand us.
FM: Yeah, go back to your comment about having a therapist meeting? What was that about? Who was the therapist and why was s/he involved with you?
My high school thought I had a little bit of a problem so they put me in the LYNKS (Littletown Youth something something) program at the hospital. The school thought I had psychosis and bi-polar but the therapist said he couldn’t properly diagnose me because I smoked too much weed. So I stopped going.
FM: Was the diagnosis important to you?
Not really. Because I knew it was kinda a bunch of bull.
FM: But smoking weed was important – if he was saying you needed to stop smoking weed in order to go forward with the therapy group...
Yeah, he said to stop smoking weed for like a year, but I said for everyone else’s safety, I’d rather not. Because at the time, weed was really calming me down, because if not I’d kinda freak out on people. And I kinda knew what was wrong with me anyway.
FM: And that is?
Being on lock-down for so many years and being depressed because my Nan died. That and I kinda smoked just to zone my mom out half the time.
FM: Is she a super nag or what made her so over-protective?
She’s really naggy and frustrated.
FM: About what?
Everything. Doesn’t matter what I did. She was kinda more neglective, too. She cared more about her TV than me.
FM: And was that why she couldn’t hold down a good job, or was she like that...
She was a good worker, she just had a hard time keeping a job, for some strange reason.
FM: And what about your dad? You said you didn’t get to see him.
I chose not to see him. As I got older, we started having theories why I always had a creepy pedophile feeling, and why I’d hold on to my mom and scream ‘I don’t want to go’ when I was to go with him for a weekend, so we’re starting to think something happened before I can remember. I did reconnect with him, though, when I got older. Turns out he’s an alcoholic.
FM: So lots of alcohol in your background. Both sides?
Just one. I don’t really know my true families. Both my parents were adopted.
FM: You referenced CAS earlier – when was that?
Just before I had my son.
FM: And what happened?
Somebody thought it would be funny to tell them I had mental problems. And I said Prove it. And they couldn’t. So then they said it was my boyfriend’s fault, because of his past, but it wasn’t his fault, [it was] because [of] his other baby-mama. And after that, everything started going really bad. They won’t go away now and they’re driving me nuts. They say that I have anger issues and depression and frustration. I can guarantee 100% my anger, my frustration and my depression are all because of them.
FM: So your baby is how old now?
He’s 6 months.
FM: And he’s in your mother’s care?
Yup. Temporarily, until we find a home.
FM: And is your mom doing a good job with him, do you think?
Yeah. He’s still ahead of schedule, like we thought he would be. He’s quite advanced for his age.
FM: So go back a bit to your housing career – left home and moved in with a guy you just met who became your boyfriend, were living in his parent’s house...
No, we were living at what we call Ghetto Res for a couple months.
FM: Couch surfing?
No, we owned that place. Then we moved to his parents’ house, rented a room. And after that we stayed at my dad’s for a bit. Left there, went back to Littletown, lived in a rooming house. Then we moved back to his parents’. Then my mom and grandma offered my boyfriend a job, so we moved to my mom’s, just before my baby was born. Then my mom and my boyfriend and I all had a clash and my mom kicked us out with our baby who was 4 months at the time.
FM: And since then, the last 2 months?
We’ve been trying to find a place, but Middletown is very discriminating against parents with young children. Littletown, there’s just really no places to rent any more at the right price. Because the way it works is OW (Ontario Works) really doesn’t give you enough to survive. You have to be able to pay your rent, buy your food, buy necessities. But you can’t really buy your food and necessities after you pay your rent. And a lot of places in Littletown ask you to pay utilities on top of rent, which is really hard. Middletown does too: it’s all over the place.
FM: Have you ever worked?
I worked for 2 months after my baby was born, until my mom kicked us out. Under the table, in a chip truck. I loved that job, too.
FM: Was it run by your mom or by friends?
It was run by one of the renters from my grandmother. He just lived down the road from my mom’s so he offered me a job – well, actually, they had a help-wanted job sign up, and they’d just hired someone but she quit. So the next time I ate there, I said I just wanted the job, so they said come back to their house and you’ve got the job.
FM: And who was caring for the babe while you were working?
My mom, when she was not working, or my boyfriend because he could get off work a lot easier than my mom or I could, because he works for my grandma.
FM: I’m a bit confused, because you said your Nan died, and I thought that would be your grandmother.
My Nan is my grandmother’s mother.
FM: And did she also live where the rest of the family lived?
No, she lived in Littletown, but she did live on the farm at one point. Because my grandfather bought it from her husband. So my grandmother is ‘Great, I’ll be stuck on this farm for the rest of my life.’ She’s really been on there her whole life.
FM: And it’s also, then, where your mother was raised.
FM: When did you first realize that you didn’t want to stay on the family farm?
About grade 4.
FM: And how did that happen?
My mom would watch TV to the point that I’d go insane because I wanted to go and hang out with friends but she wouldn’t drive me, and there were no kids around where I lived. Because by that time, my cousins had already moved off to different areas, like their parents moved off to small towns.
FM: These are your mom’s brothers and sisters?
FM: So of the family, she’s the one that ‘inherited’ the farm?
No. she won’t get anything at all. My uncle and my mom are fighting for my grandma not to sell the farm. And I kinda want a piece of it too.
FM: I’m confused. They don’t want your grandmother to sell because why?
Because it’s been in their family for over 100 years and I want it to stay as well because I kinda want to live in the house that my grandpa made.
FM: So you’d like to go back to where you were raised?
Yeah. It’s a lot more safe and there’s no drama. Like you could be in your home and you don’t have people knocking on your door. And you can go for a walk without looking over your shoulder because you have beefs with people. And I like the country lots better than the city because it’s quiet. The only thing is, I’d need a car.
FM: And a source of income?
Yeah, that too.
FM: What could you do to afford to live in the country?
Try to find a good job, but that’s hard when you’ve been in lock-down all your life. And the only work experience you have is cutting grass and working in a chip truck.
FM: What kind of work do you think you’d be good at?
Sales, like clothing sales and working in restaurants. Not so much as a cook but as a waitress. But I really really want to work in a day care.
I like children because they don’t have to worry about everyday life. They just get to play with toys and use their imagination and don’t have to worry about anything. It’s a pretty care-free life and the simplest things make them happy. Like I treat my son as I would kids in daycare and teach him at the same time as playing. Like I’ve seen kids older than him and still nowhere near where he’s at on any basis.
FM: I was going to comment that kids can be carefree because the adults who are caring for them absorb all of the work of making it a safe and productive place for them. So working in a day care is the opposite, really, of what the children experience.
FM: What I’m hearing is that you don’t feel like you had a carefree, cared-for childhood.
No. They made me worry a lot about money and being able to be a kid. I wasn’t allowed to be a kid; they made me grow up.
FM: How’d they do that?
Like if I got into trouble, I’d have to go out and slug wood. I’d get a belt the odd time, but I had to watch the news, which I admit it do love, and watch NASCAR, which drives me up the wall. And I didn’t have much toys, and no friends, really.
FM: So it could be that because you were an only child and lived in the country, that you loved school because it allowed you to be with kids your age and make friends.
I 100% hated school. I just like to go see my friends. School work, not my thing. Half the time I was in trouble with the teachers because they’d tell me to do something and I’d tell them to shove it. Me and authority are not good friends.
FM: Were you ever in trouble with the law?
Once, but I never got charged. I was actually a good person stuck at the wrong end of the stick, as the cop would say.
FM: But you’re describing someone who doesn’t like authority and who is hyper-busy and tends to misbehave. So how’d you not come into trouble with the law?
I was taught by my older cousins how to keep out of trouble with the law. Yes, I drank, but you won’t catch me with open alcohol down the street. Yes, I smoke weed, but I don’t let it be known straight-out where there are cops. And I kept it pretty hidden, particularly around cops. If you look guilty, then you’re obviously guilty. And [like] most people that I know in this great country of Canada, I smoke pot like it’s legal but we don’t want it to be legal.
Taxes. They’ll tax it out the butt. It’s already expensive enough.
FM: Okay. So what are your plans for the future – you have a few things on the agenda – get care of your baby back, find a way to live in the country. How’s that going to happen?
At this point, we’re just looking around for places but not having any luck right now. Hopefully we will soon and get ourselves situated and we should get baby back. And I’m hoping to get a job, but OW [Ontario Works] wants me to go to school right now, and I’m not too thrilled about that.
FM: I didn’t ask where you’re living right now, what kind of circumstances? Shelter?
Boyfriend’s sister, and it’s terrible. Not because of his sister, because of his mother.
FM: So they’re both living with their mother?
No, it’s his sister’s house; her mother’s living in her house. But his mother tries to think it’s her house but she doesn’t pay for anything
FM: Why isn’t she living in her own house?
I don’t know. They need to save the money, yet they have no problem spending money other places.
FM: Why does OW say they think you should go to school?
To finish my grade 12 to get a better job, I guess.
FM: And what don’t you like about that idea?
I don’t like being in a school environment. It’s too structured and the teachers – in a way, yes, they are authority – but I prefer a teacher who sees themselves as no better than the student. Like they learn from the student and the student learns from them. I saw this movie, don’t remember the name, where the students are the teachers and there’s no actual structure to the school but they learn. I’m not a structured person. I’m pretty free and outgoing and structure stresses me out.
FM: You’re not alone in not getting along with the usual school structure, but there are quite a few programs that try to get around that by working with each student to individualize his/her program. Have you tried that at all?
The school will not put me in it. They say I have to be in class to get the last 11 credits that I need, but they said I could do it in 4, but still, it’s being in the classroom that I don’t like. I’d rather sit at home, do work that way, or learn without having to write.
FM: How are your literacy skills? Reading and writing?
I can read at a university level but I do have difficulties because I have to sound the words out but I can comprehend them because I have a high vocabulary that I don’t use half the time. But I can’t spell past the 4th grade. But it’s been proven, if you went to [my elementary school], you either can’t do math or you’re illiterate.
FM: [That school] was your elementary school?
One of them; it takes on grade 4 to grade 8. Plus it didn’t help that I went to French Immersion for 3 years.
FM: What was the thinking there?
My mom thought I’d get bored in regular school, but really that was a bad idea because she made me go behind a grade.
FM: So lots of difficulties in your life. What, if anything, stands out as positive?
When I played hockey. That was really the only thing I enjoyed in life. The ice was like my happy place, and people don’t seem to understand, no matter how many times I’ve told them that, you can’t rely on it but I feel carefree when I’m on the ice.
FM: And how long did you play hockey?
FM: 14 to 18, then?
FM: So when you left home, you lost hockey?
No, I lost hockey half way through my last season because there was a lot of rivalry when I came from the arena where I played in and switched to a different one because those two teams have a beef. The one arena is all about how well you play, not the fun of the game, so they stopped telling me when games and practices were.
FM: Dumped you, basically?
Yeah. The one team I played for, I just wanted to leave the drama of the parents, so I switched to another team that was close. But even though we were on the B team, they wanted to make us A players. And I knew I wasn’t the best player. I had a really late start.
FM: Okay. I have some finish-up questions. Are we there?
FM: Okay. In order for the people who will read this story to understand it the way you mean it to be understood, would you say what you think is the Most Important Event in the story. It could be something that happened, or something that didn’t happen. But what do you think most influenced how this story is unfolding?
The people should know that putting children on lock-down and not letting them see their friends, be a kid, or just have fun in general can affect them severely. Because the more you push them on lock-down, the more likely they’re going to go and get themselves into trouble or do illegal stuff that they don’t get caught for.
FM: Okay. The judgment question: People who read this story will come to some conclusions in their minds about how it’s going to turn out, for good or not so good. What is your opinion about how it will turn out?
Well, I think they’re going to say it’s not so good because of the fact that I smoke marijuana, but it’s not on a regular basis, it’s just when I need to. And that I’m 9 years old and drinking.
FM: And what do you think?
I think it’s part of growing up. Everybody at one point probably did it.
FM: So it doesn’t indicate a ‘bad ending’, it’s just a step...
Yeah. There really won’t be an ending for a while, of my life.
FM: That’s good.
It’s just one long story, just keeps on going.
FM: Okay, two advice questions now. First: What advice would you give your younger self, whether or not your younger self would take that advice – what advice?
I’d tell myself to get on my mother’s butt and tell her to stop neglecting me. And to go get a job earlier in life.
FM: You or her, go get a job?
Me get a job.
FM: Do you think that you could have made your mother stop neglecting you? Did you have that power?
No, I tried. But I could have tried harder.
FM: How? What else might you have done, than you did?
I could have broke the TV, that would have got me somewhere. Not probably a good place right away, but it would have got me somewhere.
FM: Do you think she was depressed or something, and that’s why she was hooked on the TV?
No, she was this thing called lazy. I have the trait too, just not as bad.
FM: Is she lazy with your son?
No, she’s actually smartened up since I was a kid. She actually keeps her house clean and pays attention. She’ll actually sit down and play with him, unlike me.
FM: Do you think that may be because CAS is monitoring?
FM: Would she do it otherwise?
Um, I really don’t know.
FM: I have in my experience a few other young people – now not so young – whose mothers have been good parents to their children, to the grandchildren, and it’s really a piss off, that the grandparent screwed up with their kid so their kid doesn’t have what it takes to parent, but then the grandparent can step in and ‘save the day’. Seems not fair, although it’s hard to complain because at least your kid is still in your world.
Yeah. I definitely understand that. Because my boyfriend’s other son is going through the same thing. His mom was adopted and she’s nothing but a drug addict and her brother is nothing but a lazy bum, but still they put my boyfriend’s other son in her parents’ care. And all we can see is a kid who thinks he can run you, who doesn’t listen, and who whines. It’s not a way to raise a child; there’s no discipline.
I was taught how to raise children in a safe and healthy way, so there’s still discipline but they don’t run me, I run them. Like my son, he goes to bed same time every day. But my nephews, the one’s 3 and one’s still a baby, and they’re already running their parents because they – in a way, structure is good up until a certain point. Once they’re older and they can make up their own minds for themselves, when they’re big decisions, that’s when you can take away the structure and give them their freedom. But when they’re still in the structure, you try to give them some freedom, like going out with friends and stuff. My mother just kept the structure all the way through. At least she was trying.
FM: Okay. It is interesting to hear you on structure, because --
I know, I don’t like it. But in a way some people do need it. As a child. In a way you do need it. Because if you don’t go to bed early, as a child, when you start kindergarten, you have to get up nice and early and you’re cranky, and that’s what I’m trying to avoid is my kid being cranky. Like my nephews, they don’t go to bed until 10, 11 o’clock at night and don’t wake up until 10, 11. When you have to go to kindergarten, you have to be up 7 or 8 in the morning, so there’s a couple hours difference there.
FM: Okay. Last question: What advice would you give to people like myself who would like to be helpful to young people like yourself, that would help us be more effective?
Instead of trying to be the enforcer, in a way, or authority, try to be their friend. Sit down and just talk. Not about problems or anything because that will come out over time. But just sit down and talk; they’re no different than you. No one’s better than anyone else. Even if one is older or has more authority, treat everyone equally. Like an older gentleman told me, Peace, Love, Weed and everybody will be happy.
FM: So weed is the answer to everything?
No, it is not the answer to everything. But it’s just one of those things that helps people express their creativity and be open. And no, I’m not on it right now.
FM: You sound a bit defensive?
No, I’m not defensive. It’s just some people can take it the wrong way. I just thought I was born in the wrong time. Like if my teen years were in the 60s or 70s, you could just, like, sit down and talk about it and smoke a joint. Do what the hippies did. I’m a hippy, deep down inside.
FM: Okay. That’s me. Anything more?
No, pretty much got it.