Childhood story has happy ending
Story written by Carol Sanders.
At 17, Taren Orchard has written a tale of courage and Taren Orchard survival. It’s not about extreme sports or battling a villain, but taking his troubled family tree and setting it to grow right.
Taren is one of this year’s winners of Winnipeg’s Youth Role Model Awards. He won the Rosalind Natividad Cantiveros Award for Courage for his 12-page story about his family’s severed roots, and growing up in and out of foster care.
“I haven’t really won anything ever,” he said before Saturday’s awards ceremony at the Caboto Centre.
“We were supposed to be doing a paper on the impact of residential schools,” said the Grade 12 student at Children of the Earth High School. Taren’s paper grew into something much more personal.
“My story’s about the intergenerational impact of it.”
His grandmother was a residential school survivor, he said.
“She didn’t know how to raise her kids,” said Taren.
“My dad and his siblings went into foster care. They weren’t doing so well,” he said.
“They didn’t know how to raise their kids, either.”
Taren’s page-turner describes his struggles and anxiety bouncing in and out of foster homes in northwestern Ontario.
Without a strong foundation or stable parenting, his young world literally started to fall in on him when he was a preschooler, and he looked to the TV for nurturing.
“I was watching Barney on the television and I thought it would be a great idea to hug Barney through the set,” he writes. “Sadly, my plan backfired and the television fell on top of me... I think I just needed someone to hold.”
His dad, a musician, was away from home a lot. His mom, who battled addiction, was frequently absent, too. Overnight, he and his preschool-age brother and sister were left alone.
“That was the first time we were apprehended by Child and Family Services in Ontario,” Taren wrote. “I know I was afraid that I would never get to see my mom or dad again. My sister was sent to a different home while my older brother and I were together.”
Their grandmother applied for custody and got it and the kids were reunited for a while.
Then his father got cancer, his mom got custody and the kids moved twice more. Their mom left the kids with a babysitter and took off for days. They were split up and back in foster care.
That revolving door didn’t stop spinning for the first half of his life.
At a young age, he learned happy endings were for Hollywood, not him, and no matter how hard he tried he couldn’t change things.
“I knew by then that parents couldn’t be saved by their children like in the movies,” he wrote. “Parents have to pull themselves out of the holes they’ve dug.”
In the middle of the upheaval and anxiety, the smart little foster kid honed his ability to fit in, to never make a mistake, to always watch his step. He advanced a grade and was moved into the same class as his older brother. He built a shell to protect himself from feeling pain -- and joy.
“Happiness would never last.”
At his last foster home, though, he was proven wrong.
“That family was really great to me.” At their home near Red Lake, Ont., he experienced simple things like acceptance, Christmas presents and a safe place to let his guard down and be a kid. He writes about his first Halloween with “real, stable friends” and “a family.” The Red Lake placement would be his last before his dad, cancer-free, won custody of Taren and his siblings.
Today, he’s still with his dad.
“We’ve got a really good relationship,” he said in an interview.
What kind of parent will Taren be?
“I don’t know -- probably really good. I know what not to do and how not to be,” he said.
For now, he plays guitar and writes music. He doesn’t think he’ll be able to afford university next year but he’s planning to work toward it. Taren said he’s “not into the cultural stuff.”
He’s been to sweat lodges and powwows but his faith rests solely in the actions of an individual. “I believe in the person.”
Editor’s Note: Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 9, 2011 B1