Theresa Miller's 'Shape-shifting My Way Home: A Life in Foster Care'

Stacey Hartley • Jul 31, 2019 at 9:00 PM

Of all the things Norwalk is known for, perhaps the most can be said regarding the various programming and activities for area youth.

But something the Maple City is less known for is its foster care system, an area shied-away by some that select others have an actual insight into. That’s one of the reasons Theresa Miller decided to write “Shape Shifting My Way Home: A Life in Foster Care.”

Miller is a full-time storyteller and member of the St. Paul High School class of 1963. She lived in 13 foster homes/facilities throughout her life.

“I’ve moved many times into many homes . . . (So) to be at one school is a powerful thing,” said the 61-year-old.

“(Growing up) in this small town, people would do all these little acts of kindness. From doing something to help someone you heard was having a hard time. Even in school — the people I went to school with, teachers and students would offer such kindness … I felt (like) I was not ‘other,’” Miller said.

“A little piece offered here; a little piece there. Those little pieces are so important.”

Without fully realizing it, Miller’s transient circumstances in foster homes, including Norwalk’s Children's Home — a place she spent five years and called (her) “healing place”  — armed her with the material to pen her memoir. She wrote it after reading a news article about a young adult in Toledo, who “aged out” of the system upon turning 18.

“The 18th-year — out of foster care, when (you discover) you’re on your own … is a crazy and frightening year,” Miller said. 

While Miller offered she had written snippets of her own experience in the foster system throughout her life, she admitted she didn’t think about penning a book about it until she saw the article written by a columnist for The Toledo Blade

“I was enraged. It was really well-written, but that poor girl was exposed (at such a young age).” 

“And when I learned the girl was avoiding the columnist, I thought life (in foster care) is so complicated at 18. … But at 60 years old, I could tell that story,” Miller said.

As a college graduate with “a few degrees” and having been a counselor and who worked with children, she said she “understood the complexity” because “it is my story.”

Since the instance that sparked the compulsion to share her own story, Miller said she was surprised to hear how word-of-mouth — following a conversation with an old classmate during a high school reunion — has shared that experience with those both familiar and not with foster care/adoption processes.

“So many people have passed the book (along) and not all of them are foster children. It speaks to a childhood that was maybe not as welcoming as it could be.”

“I did this because it’s been so many years since I was in foster care and I wanted to show what was in my life that enabled me and others in my generation not to fall off the cliff. I wanted to find out the pieces that mattered, because a lot of them have just fallen through the cracks. … So I told myself, ‘I will write this honest book and I think those answers are in there.’”

The release of “Shape-shifting” led to the start of the Open Table program — which involves helping a person in the foster care system to receive support services and resources. Additionally, awareness of “aging out” succeeded in allowing for individuals to remain in the foster care system until they turn 21. 

When asked if any other works of hers have been published, the current full-time oral story-teller replied “I’m finished. I’ve written the story I’ve wanted to write.” However, the author added she is open to efforts to have an independent book-signing event in the near future.  

Shape-shifting My Way Home: A Life in Foster Care” can be found online at thebookpatch.com.

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