After going from home to home for many years, Summer Faulcon-Nneji left the foster care system on her 18th birthday to face the world alone.
When she found herself pregnant, Faulcon-Nneji realized that although her circumstances were difficult, she was not going to pass on the same life to her son.
“I had to get my own apartment, I had to fight to show that I could take care of myself,” she says.
“I was working and I ended up with roommates with everything in my name, then they all walked. I got left with everything to take care of, the bills and the consequences but I just kept trying to go forward while pregnant, and then I became a single mom.”
Afraid, angry and confused at the time, this dramatic change in her life sparked a purpose. If she couldn’t have her dream family — she was going to create the one she always wanted, and keep her child away from the system.
Faulcon-Nneji says she didn’t know how to care for her son, as she didn’t experience that herself as a child. Initially feeling that she was failing as her newborn would cry for hours, it was later diagnosed that his body was unable to break down sugar, which caused his outbreaks.
“[At first], he was diagnosed mild to moderately mentally handicapped at age five because he had no communication, we were sure he had autism since he was sensory,” Faulcon-Nneji says. “We later found out it was his inability to break down sugar and aspartame, he would be hyper and would come out of his room bloody and bruised…
“He just couldn’t calm himself down, he had no way of self-regulation so I would have to put dark blankets on all of my windows so his senses were calmed down. It would usually take up to five days [for it to end].”
When she moved to the Northwest from Alberta with her son, she was pregnant again and living in a transition house. It was almost Christmas and she decided to wander into a local church in hopes of finding a community. She met a woman named Deborah McTague who insisted they spend the holidays with her.
“From that moment forward, she incorporated us into her life… she never had kids and never got married so we became her family,” she says. “And then my daughter was born on her birthday… [I call her] my adopted mother and we say she adopted me, but I guess the truth is we adopted her.”
McTague had cared for her elderly parents and housed people with special needs. When Faulcon-Nneji’s daughter was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, a disorder characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain, and she found herself pregnant again — McTague stood by them and did everything she could to help them.
Up until that point in her life, Faulcon-Nneji had never experienced that amount of love and support from anyone. McTague was the embodiment of the woman she wanted to be to everyone around her and knew she had to be strong for her children.
“I had another baby girl and thought that was that with three kids, so I decided that I was just going to be a single mom for the rest of my life and raise my kids to jump out of helicopters, snowboard down mountains and just work with that,” she says with a laugh.
She says that after being in foster care as a child, she saw how important it was to offer a safe, comfortable house to anyone that needed it. Her home eventually became a hub for all the kids in the neighbourhood, some who didn’t have food or were nervous to go back home. She kept an extra stock of snacks and blankets, always ready to have a few visitors stay with them.
“It would not be an odd thing for me to go on a camping trip with a whole bunch of kids… I just became the honorary auntie,” she says.
“I’d always open up those doors and accept one more child, maybe they’re a floater who might not stay long and you have the ones that you really care about. Then they kind of go on their own path and you may lose track of them but you just realize that you’re only there for a time when they need you. Hopefully down the road they’ll remember those moments, and that’s what will make them better.”
As Faulcon-Nneji developed a stride in her life, continuing to pick up jobs to support her family, she then reconnected with her long-lost sisters from Alberta. Developing a close bond with one of them, she was persuaded to join an online dating site. So she did on the condition that all her matches had to be from outside of the country. This way, she thought, no romance would ever come from the site.
She began to chat with a match from Nigeria for a long time and when he suggested that he meet her in Malaysia, she agreed. Their connection was instant and they immediately got married there.
When she returned back to Canada to arrange for him to move here, she was also pregnant.
“Then 15 months later, he came off the plane as I held our six-month-old while raising three more children — plus I had two other children living with me, so I had all these kids and he hasn’t met any of them,” she says.
“He was awkward and didn’t know how to hold the baby… the kids wanted something more but he didn’t know how to give it, then the stresses started coming.”
She says her husband struggled to adapt to Canadian life as he worried about his family back home in Nigeria. Faulcon-Nneji understood it was overwhelming for him and when they were expecting another child, he decided he needed to step away for a bit.
Faulcon-Nneji gathered her five kids together and they agreed to help one another. McTague was then diagnosed with cancer, so her daughters volunteered to take care of her. Together, they did all the chores and whatever they could to make it through financially.
“I spent a lot of time just trying to acknowledge that it’s not about us, he’s a caring father who wants to be there but it’s just that he does not know how to show it,” she says.
“But we all worked together to pull through: we do snow removal, lawn care, everything, and I don’t believe that when you do something as a family, that you need to be rewarded financially. The reward is about family security, family safety, family involvement. We do this as a team.”
Eventually, she recognized a passion for helping people and enrolled in courses at Coast Mountain College in hopes of getting a few first-aid certificates to be more employable. She realized she loved learning and that it felt good to put aside time for herself as her children became more independent. Taking courses that interested her, she was soon checking off credits in the nursing program.
She says her husband returned a year later and they’re making it work. She’s still in school and drives from Kitimat to attend her classes. Her foster son is also studying culinary arts at the college, so together they pack their lunches and carpool in the early morning. As she excels in her classes, she’s been able to fund her education with bursaries.
Although it’s been a difficult journey, Faulcon-Nneji says she’s discovered a lot about herself. She’s learning firsthand from her husband about the struggles in Nigeria and hopes to one day provide medical aid to his home country after completing her schooling.
But most importantly, she’s created the family she’s always wanted and appreciates everything that made them who they are today. She continues to keep her home open, knowing from experience that an open door can lead someone to a better place.
“I always wanted to make sure my kids had a better life than me and it hasn’t always been easy,” she says. “But this all really made me understand what I needed to know: how to be there for my kids and other people.”