Last week, we celebrated with Tammy and Ronderik (RD) Curtis as we shared their story of becoming a family just one year ago. When Tammy asked RD if the media attention surrounding his adoption was too much he said, “No, Mom – I still have friends in foster care, and I want to make sure they know to never give up.” Part 2 of this story is sharing some powerful insight from Ronderik Curtis.
DTFA: What do you want to say to youth currently in the system who may be considering getting adopted?
RD: Never give up and make sure to remember what you’ve learned, but always have fun. It’s scary when you first get there, but you should know your new family will love you forever. Sometimes you will be scared that if you do something bad you will have to go back into foster care, but once you have a family they will really be your forever family no matter what.
DTFA: Why is it still important to consider adoption, especially as an older youth in foster care?
RD: If you’re adopted, you’ll have a family and have the chance to take your time to figure out what you want to do with your life. If you make the choice to remain in foster care and age out, you’re on your own and it’s really hard in the society that we live in – you’re just rushed out with no one to call family. It will be pretty hard to get a job or a house. Even though you may think you don’t need anyone, once you have a family, you’ll realize that you are going to need them a long time after you turn 18.
DTFA: What do you wish others knew about children in foster care?
RD: That most of them aren’t bad kids; most of them haven’t been to jail, and they aren’t what you may think of them. They are really nice kids and they just want to be a part of a family - they want to be loved and have the things that ‘normal’ kids have. We are just like ‘normal’ kids but sometimes act out because we are scared, not because we want to.
I just want people to know most kids in foster care aren’t what society might sometimes assume. We have dreams just like everyone else. Even though our number one dream is to get adopted, we dream about what we want to be when we grow up and places we want to visit, and where we want to go to college.
DTFA: Share some favorite things about your family.
RD: My mom likes a lot of the same things I like: music, video games and movies, and Disney stuff. She loves me unconditionally and never let my bad behavior affect her love for me. It’s okay that my mom is strict with me because that means she loves me. Sometimes she doesn’t agree with how I dress but she lets me. She thinks socks and slides look really dumb, but she is okay when I wear them.
I love to hang out with my Pappy to go to see movies, and he teaches me about sports and takes me to Bucs and Rays games. He’s my best friend and my hero. Even though he’s my grandpa, he’s really kind of like a dad too. I know I can always count on him to be there for me and he’s going to help me grow up to be a really good man.
I have my Uncle Jeff who lives in Venice Beach and I get to go visit him for Thanksgiving. He is very cool and has made special trips back to Florida just to spend time with me. He is hilarious and I can talk to him about anything and I know he won’t ever judge me and I know he loves me.
I have a real godmother now too. Christy is my mom’s best friend and cousin, so she’s my cousin too, but kind of like my aunt. I love her because even though she is family, she doesn’t have to love me like Mom has to, but she does anyway. Her daughter Kiley (my cousin) is my BFF too! Christy helps make sure I stay in line and I love her for that.
My life has changed very much because I’ve gone from having my stuff worn by other kids, sometimes having to wear shoes that didn’t fit, borrow shirts, having to write my name on my possessions and having to protect all of my things. I’ve gone from having nothing to having a lot of things – I have a bed that doesn’t leave a scar, and I have a room all to myself for the very first time. I can be loved now and I have a family to rely on, a person to tell me what’s right from wrong, a person who loves me unconditionally and I have my mom who really wants to be in my life, and in my school life, and wants to help me learn and be the best I can be. My family loves me more than I ever thought I could be loved and I know that they will always be there for me no matter what.
Ronderik (RD) lived the first 14 ½ years of his life in the foster care system. I am his 13th and final home. I met him in April of 2012 when he was 14 ½ years old. He was working with Breun, an amazing WWK recruiter. After meeting them both at an adoption event for older kids, Breun showed me the video they’d created together to give me a glimpse of who he is. I’d already had the overwhelming feeling of knowing he was my son the moment I laid eyes on him, but after watching his video, I knew that we’d be a forever family. In his video, I learned he loved to draw, dreamt of going to Disney for his birthday, wanted a forever family, and was someone who never gave up on his dreams.
RD chose his bio birthday to finalize the adoption – it was November, which is National Adoption Month. He never had a real birthday party before, and I usually tend to plan a birth-month celebration. When I found out my son had never had a birthday party, I planned the trip of his dreams to Disney in early November to begin the celebration. My very favorite moment was when we went to the Hall of Presidents. Midway through the show, I looked over and he had tears rolling down his cheeks. When I asked him why he was so emotional, he told me that he’d dreamt of this his whole life. The previous year he did a report on Abraham Lincoln and seeing the animatronic Abe in front of him touched his heart. He said, “This is the best day of my life.”
RD’s “Big Day” (bio 15th birthday and finalization day) was pretty incredible. We had a packed courtroom with family, friends, case workers who’d known him almost his whole life, and an amazing judge. After the finalization, we had a celebration with more than 80 people who filled the ballroom for RD’s very first birthday party. We had music, dancing, and great food. RD floated around the room thanking everyone for coming to his Big Day and offered to sign autographs. He was on cloud nine and said that his Big Day was the best day of his life.
Having grown up in the system, RD never learned how to swim. When we first met, he’d barely sit on the edge of the swimming pool. Lessons were very scary for him in the beginning, but once we found the right teacher, he did incredibly well. Since then he’s snorkeled and kayaked in Key West, canoed down the Hillsborough River, been to three different water parks, and swam with dolphins, manatees and even sharks. Each new experience we had with each other, he’d end the day by telling me, “Mom, this was the best day of my life!”
Mother’s Day this year was incredibly special. Ronderik worked with his teachers and ordered me a pretty pink cake. He hand made a very special card for me, and treated me like a queen all weekend long. At the end of the day Sunday, he took a deep breath and sighed, “Mom, this was the best Mother’s Day ever.” I agreed, and he added, “It was my very first Mother’s Day as a son! Mom, this was the best day of my life.”
Just last week, RD brought home his best report card ever. I shared the following on Facebook: Proud mom moment!!! RD brought home his best report card yet!!! 4 Bs, 1 C, and 1 D (he was so close with a 69!) He didn’t miss a day of school in the first 9 weeks (was late only two times for pre-planned appointments) and one of his teachers commented that he had a good attitude. When he read it, he told me no one had ever made him feel like he was smart, or that he could ever do any better than failing or barely passing. Monday, he said, was the best day of his life.
Being a single mom to a teenage boy who’s lived his whole life in foster care isn’t always easy. There have been times, even after finalization, that RD thought he’d done something to ‘make me give him back.’ We constantly work on what unconditional love means, and that I am his Mom and his forever family. We work on behaviors that were learned by changing homes and families every year. No matter what we face, I always tell him how much I love him and that I will always be his Mom.
Submitted by Tammy Curtis of Tampa, FL.
Over on Facebook, we started a new feature with our CEO Rita Soronen who answers the questions of our followers. If you have a question about foster care adoption let us know.
More than 100,000 children in the United States are in foster care waiting to get adopted. This infographic shows the number of children waiting in each state. More than 23,000 children turn 18 and age out of the system each year.
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When I first met my child (by DaveThomasFoundation) was just awarded honorable mention for Best PSA by Ragan Communications in its Nonprofit PR Awards!