Elizabeth foster mother to her own brother.
As she runs toward me in the lashings of rain, pushing a buggy, her black hair is as soaking wet as her clothes. I meet up with her in Clondalkin, where she lives, now, in a large apartment building. She looks downtrodden, and when she says hello, I can hear tiredness beyond her years in her voice. She is 27, and the child with her is three. You would assume that she is just like any other young mother going about her day with her child. Her name is Elizabeth and she has been a foster mom since she was 23 years old. Today, she is with her foster child, who is also her brother.
When Elizabeth speaks, you can hear the rough Dublin accent, mixed with grace and maturity. Elizabeth was raised by her mother, Tracy (a single parent), on Eugene Street, nestled right next door to Theresa Garden flats, where drugs and crime are commonplace. Elizabeth was an only child until the age of ten, and her mother continuously struggled with the demons of alcoholism and the suicide of her own sister, committed by jumping off Bray Head.
Inside the beaten-up buggy is a small boy with blonde hair, blue eyes, and a smile a mile long. That boy is Jordan, whom she has been raising on her own since he was only weeks old. She invited me into her apartment, where it is evident that Jordan is the centre of her universe. The apartment is small, but has a large and warm, sunny sitting room where Jordan sits on a comfy sofa watching one of his favourite videos. It is a two-bedroom apartment, with one bedroom painted blue—with stickers of trucks on the wall and a toddler bed with lots of cuddly toys—clearly a great space for Jordan to call his own. As she makes a cup of coffee, her incredible life story, starting at the age of ten, comes spilling out.
As she begins to talk, she seems drained and worn out, as if she has already raised a gaggle of kids. “I have been a parent to me ma an’ me sister most of me life. When me sister was born, I was ten, and then everything went crazy. After me sister was born, me ma was bad on the drink. I would have to tuck her in bed, clean up her puke, an’ carry her in the house from the garden when she couldn’t get in the door. I was constantly having to look after her. I was always the parent. Me sister would always cry for me, not me ma. Me an’ me sister were very close.”
Elizabeth’s family was torn apart when her sister, at the age of three, was placed in foster care. “I was heartbroken when she was taken ‘cause I loved her, but at the same time, I was relieved ‘cause I was only 13, an’ I wanted a life. I was raising her.” It was at this time that she began to realize that her life was not normal. “Once, when I was 13 an’ was going out with me friends, me ma pushed the pram straight at me an’ shouted, ‘You take her; I am not minding her,’ an’ slammed the door in me face.” Once again, Elizabeth spent the night being responsible for her sister, who was still a baby.
Elizabeth no longer feels responsible for her sister being in foster care. “Now, I realize me sister was not my responsibility. I didn’t give birth to her. At the end of the day, I would have taken her on if I had been older.” A sense of sadness and loss echoed in her voice as she spoke of her sister. Elizabeth doesn’t see that much of her sister anymore, as her sister has spent the last 13 years in various foster homes. Her sister is now 16 and dabbling in hard drugs, so Elizabeth cannot risk having her around her brother.
When Elizabeth found out her mom was pregnant for the third time, she told her to terminate the pregnancy. “I was the daughter telling my mother to get an abortion. Normally, it’s the other way around.” By the time her mother was six months pregnant, Elizabeth knew she was not going to be able. “I knew in my heart that she didn’t want this. We were shopping one day in Dunnes, an’ I kept showing her these gorgeous outfits to buy for the baby, but she wouldn’t buy anything. She kept talking about how dear they were an’ kept throwing the things out of the trolley.”
Although Elizabeth knew that she was going to have to take the baby and raise him, she wanted it to work out and have her mother be the parent this time around. She spent a week scrubbing her mom’s floors in preparation for the baby’s arrival. Elizabeth moved out of her flat and moved in with her mother to help her raise the baby. That first week of living with and helping her mother was wrought with dysfunction. “It was like something out of a film. She punched me, tried to run away with the baby, an’ locked me in the house.” At the end of the first week, Elizabeth packed up and left, leaving her mother to cope on her own. “It killed me to leave him, but it would also have killed me to stay.” The very next day, Elizabeth got a call from the social worker, begging her to go back up to her mother’s and help her. “I said no, but I agreed to take the baby to mine, an’ I have had him ever since.”
Watching Elizabeth interact with Jordan, it’s clear he is her world, and she is his. “I always talk about me ma to Jordan. I show him pictures of me ma an’ tell him that’s your mammy, an’ that’s my mammy, and you’re my brother.” Elizabeth will be Jordan’s primary carer for the next 15 years, at which point she will be 42 years old.
She finds dating tough, but one day would like to have a partner and have kids of her own. “If I wanted to have a fella, they would have to be Garda cleared. I am a foster mother. It’s a big thing. It’s why I am single, as well. It’s not so easy to date. It’s tough, but I love him, an’ right now he is number one.”
Elizabeth has one regret. “I wish I had went to college an’ stuck at it. I would like to have a career, but I have a job. It’s being a foster mom. I get paid to do this job, an’ it’s the most import job ever.”
As Elizabeth hugs me goodbye and Jordan gives me a kiss, she talks about advice she would have given to that ten-year-old girl living on Eugene Street who was raising her mother. “Be a child more. Don’t be the mammy. Go out an’ enjoy yourself. It’s not your responsibility.”
As the interview draws to an end Elizabeth talks about what being a parent means to her. “To me, having a parent means someone to love you, someone to actually take care of you. To have that person to cuddle you agn’ tell you everything is going to be all right, constantly loving you all the time.” Jordan is a lucky boy, and Elizabeth is an amazing woman, sister, and foster mother all at the age of 27.