Knox College student Eron Jackson, 16, gets depressed more often than not.
His reason is simple but deep – he needs the attention of his mother.
His 46-year-old mother Juliet Foster confessed that she has been physically absent from her child’s life since he was only three years old, a situation that saw tears flowing down her cheeks as she related her story to the Jamaica Observer recently.
“I went to Knox too, and I did four years, but I couldn’t finish because it was nine of us and papa being a mason and farmer he hardly got anything to do and mama would just do one or two days washing. So it was hard to take care of nine children and send us to school,” said Foster, a single mother.
Having dropped out of school, Foster had to move from place to place, working as a domestic helper/caregiver, trying to make ends meet as she is determined that she will keep her son in school at any cost.
“It’s really hard on me. I do a little domestic work, but my son is in his final year in high school so when I get pay and I come home every two weeks, that is almost to send my son to school. I give him $550 per day and I get what little snacks it can buy for him for the next two weeks,” Foster explained.
The Clarendon woman, who lives in the small district of Alston, currently works in Kingston as a live-in domestic helper.
But while the bulk of her wages support her son, Foster explained that she has to help in the care of her father who was diagnosed with prostate cancer some years ago.
“My father is 77 years old. He has prostate cancer, he has a bad heart and he also has high cholesterol,” she said. “So he moves around a little but he can’t work, so he depends on whatsoever he gets. There are eight of us alive but it’s three of us who take care of him on a constant basis. My mom died in 2009 and he was diagnosed with cancer before that.”
Foster said that in order to leave her son ‘a little money’ she often has to borrow because her pay cannot cover it all.
And despite her struggle, she said that her son’s father does nothing to assist him.
“My son is in final year in high school and he has never bought him a pencil. Even though he can, he hasn’t, so it is very hard,” she said. “Even the other day when I was supposed to pay for his CXCs and I sent him a text message asking him to help, he sent me a response which said, ‘rise and shine’, and that was it. But he is one of those men who if you not having a relationship with them, they not giving you anything for the child,” she went on.
Foster said that since she dropped out of high school she has been desperately trying to further her education but has come upon “roadblock after roadblock”.
“I have tried writing and sending letters all over the place for help. When I just left school I wrote to the then West Indies College and explained my situation. At the time they said I could come to school part time and work part time. But mama could not afford it. So I wrote to the prime minister then, Mr Seaga. I didn’t get a response at the time, so I got in touch with one of my aunts in Kingston who said I could stay with her and she would help me get back to school. While I was in Kingston someone came from Jamaica House to my home here in Clarendon to look for me. So I went to Jamaica House and signed up some papers but then I didn’t hear anything from that,” she said.
Her request was for assistance to go back to school as at the time she wanted to do nursing.
She started attending the Stony Hill Heart Academy, pursuing a secretarial course. However, the person with whom she was staying in Kingston emigrated, and she had to return to Clarendon, unable to continue.
In 1992, an aunt started paying for her to do cosmetology in Mandeville but after a while the teacher emigrated to New York and the classes broke up.
“I got pregnant shortly after. I was 25,” the mother of two said. “The hardships didn’t get any better. So I was still writing around, still trying. But nothing much was going on, so it was my parents who were helping me and once in a while my daughter’s father would give me something.”
Foster’s daughter, who is now 21, lives with a relative elsewhere.
A year later, Foster started working and again sent another letter to the new Prime Minister PJ Patterson.
She was again invited to Jamaica House and was told that they were willing to facilitate her studies full time.
However, her employer would not permit her and Foster could not afford to give up the job.
“She said if it was part-time she could allow me, but it couldn’t work out with me working and going to school full time. And I couldn’t afford to not work because that would cause the two children to not be able to go to school and can’t find anything to eat. So I had to pass up that opportunity,” she stated.
In 2006, Foster left to work in the Cayman Islands as a domestic helper/caregiver for a 90-year-old.
But despite having big plans to properly care for her family and build a place to live in Jamaica, the responsibilities were too much for her wages.
“At the time, my mother was alive and I had a brother who suffered from epilepsy so between my brother and two children, plus my daughter got pregnant at 13, and that was an addition to the family. So I now had to help her with the baby and assist my parents when I could,” Foster explained.
“Up there when I work I had to pay rent, light, water, insurance, travel and everything, so there was hardly anything to save. But that was when I started this one room,” she said looking around the room and unfinished bathroom that she now calls home.
Foster worked in the Cayman Islands for eight years before moving back to Jamaica last August after being diagnosed with severe fibroids which required surgery.
“It got so bad that when I went to the doctor there and I did a blood count she said she wondered how I could manage to move around with it so low and not drop down. I’ve just known for about two years now that I have it. Over the years I’ve had problems with heavy bleeding but it was two years ago that I started feeling the pain,” she explained. “I was working seven days per week just in order to keep myself and when I got paid and I sent it home there was nothing left for me so the seventh day would be what I use to buy a little food and for travelling expense to carry me through another week again. There was no break for me until I came home at the end of the year so it has been hard. It has been challenging.”
Foster said that a doctor in the Cayman Islands told her the size of the fibroid was similar to that of a three-month pregnancy and so surgery was needed urgently. She was told by the doctor that it was better for her to come home to do it and recuperate since she had no family in the Cayman Islands to take care of her. Plus, she said the doctor explained that it would work out much cheaper doing it in Jamaica.
“But then I came home and thought about it. If I was to take six weeks off and do the surgery and don’t work then my son couldn’t go to school,” she reasoned.
Despite plans to have the surgery done last August, she said that there was no way she could do it and be out of work as her son would feel the impact.
“I have to do whatever I have to do but I have to keep him in school,” she insisted. “I wasn’t working for over a month so I had to survive on what I had, so I had nothing now to depend on but the work.”
Now, she said, she has begun to feel signs that her blood count is going back down as she has started feeling tired and dizzy.
Foster explained that she would have to spend at least another year in Jamaica before she can apply to go back to the Cayman Islands because her time here has rolled over. However, she said that if she is able to make it here, she would prefer to stay because she knows her son needs her and her father needs to be cared for.
In fact, she explained that it was the year after leaving for the Cayman Islands that her daughter got pregnant and she felt her presence might have made a difference.
“I went up Knox in October because one of my son’s teachers said she wanted to see me. She said that from September they realise that he has been smiling a lot and he has been reading, as there was a time when his performance was dropping.
“The teacher said he had been hurting over something and it was because I was not around. So he was smiling again because I had returned. It affects him sometimes knowing that I am always gone and by the time I am home and he gets to see me for a few days and we start to rap, then I am gone again. It’s been like that from he was about two or three years old. I am always gone, always,” she said.
The 16-year-old reluctantly explained that his mother’s absence has indeed affected him.
“I feel depressed most of the time. She is the only parent I have, but what good would it be if she is here and not working?” he said.
Jackson hesitantly admitted that he cries sometimes because of the situation. However, he has big dreams of furthering his education.
“I want to be many things. I am thinking about going back to sixth form and then further on go to law school,” he said.
“I would love for him to go to college,” his mother added. “First when he started going Knox he has said that he wanted to be a pilot. Recently I heard him say he wants to be a police officer. Sometimes he messages me and says ‘mommy I am hoping and praying for a better day. Don’t worry, the change will come’.
But there are moments too that breaks his mother’s heart.
“One day when I reached work he sent me a text message and said, ‘mommy, you wouldn’t know what I’m going through’, and I said to him ‘I’m sorry but I’m trying to do the best I can because I really need to see you through school’, and he replied ‘mommy, just in case I don’t get an education which I hope to God won’t happen, don’t deprive me of family’. That hurt me so much, but I still know that I can’t be in two places at the same time,” Foster said wiping tears from her cheeks. “I need to keep him in school so I have to work and I was trying to get something down here but I couldn’t get anything so I just have to keep going up there (Kingston).”
Foster said that she had written to Prime Minster Portia Simpson Miller and received a response to say she had instructed Delano Franklin, an advisor to the prime minister, to get in touch with her.
He did, and asked her to send her reference (certificate) of caregiving and he would try to see if a job could be secured for her. However, this she was unable to do since her only training was done on the job and through personal research.
“But I know though that giving up is not an option. I have to keep trying because there are people who are really depending on me,” she stated.
Foster said that she would love to be certified and having done caregiving for almost eight years, this has become her passion.
She said that she would also love to get some baby chicks to go into chicken rearing but her concern is finding market for the stock.
People wishing to assist Juliet may contact her at (876) 484-1073.