When Henri first told me the word maskrosbarn he automatically translated it into English, thus calling me during our conversation, a “dandelion child.” I had never heard the term but assumed it was along the same lines as the English term “flower child” and giggled at it. I also thought it was a very flamboyant thing to come from someone like Henri--he’s as direct as a straight line on a level. I can’t remember how, but the word got brought up again with Nairi some time later, but this time it was “maskrosbarn.”

At the time my Swedish was poor enough that I only understood “barn” (children) but Nairi explained the term--it mean “Someone like you, Alex” who had no roots but still grew, like the flower. Incidentally the dandelion is also the symbol for the Green Party in Sweden (Miljöpartiet de gröna) and Carl explained that it was their symbol for the same reason. A dandelion can grow with very little needs, and can thrive in places like sidewalk cracks and concrete lots. I suddenly recalled Henri’s praise and realized he wasn’t just calling me a flower child. When someone uses the term maskrosbarn they are acknowledging the person had little support or chance to succeed in life, but that he or she did.

In America, I grew up first in poverty and then in the foster care system. Both realms of my childhood are ignored by our society, almost completely. If people got as up in arms about barefoot, terrified, hungry, dirty, worm and lice-ridden children as they did contraception or political correctness, kids like me would actually have a chance. But no one does. I lived this life and I live in our society so I can tell you how pathetic the awareness, let alone, the intervention is. I can’t really speak of the awareness or support of those families in Sweden, because in my experience, anyone in that country who knows about my past is simply horrified and baffled and can’t even relate in a way that makes me feel like some kind of alien or monster. Sweden is a very wealthy and even spoiled place, and I didn’t ever see the foster care system or any kind of forgotten-about-society like the one I grew up in. Americans by contrast are mostly aware of these parts of society. We live and exist much closer to poverty than our big Viking cousins.

And yet the first-world Swedes were the ones who had the word. They actually had a word for people like me, a good word. It wasn’t “meth baby” or “foster kid” (ew) or “at-risk youth” or “juvenile delinquent” or “hillbilly.” It was a beautiful term that by its definition praised the resilience and honored the struggle of a child without the bare minimum needs to survive and much less thrive. I can’t explain how it has haunted me my entire adulthood to be called a plethora of things and to hear over and over “you overcame the odds” in a blank, echo-y manner. It’s not that I doubt people are impressed or encouraged by my success story as it were, but when you hear this your whole life, being called “at-risk” or “damaged” and hearing “you know most people with a story like that are on drugs or on the street” and that's what you get--when suddenly you hear yourself being called a “dandelion child”...the difference is pretty stark.  It meant the world to me.  It still does.  It was like being acknowledged truly for the first time.

I go over and over in my head whether I’m grateful for my experiences, or if I wish they’d never happened. It’s not an easy question to answer. The one thing I have realized is that who I am, that child deprived of a healthy growing environment, will always be a large piece of me. And that part of me hurts, and will always hurt. Van Gogh said to his brother before he died, “The sadness will last forever.” Once I accepted this and stopped fighting it, I really did feel more peace. I have a few friends who have come from similar situations as me, and even though some of us have never met in person, they share the same sentiments. It seems that part of the recipe for success for maskrosbarn is recognizing stark, unhappy and displeasurable truth. Others do it with grace; something I hope to imitate.

Living in pain sounds like a death sentence sometimes. Sometimes it is and I just get lucky enough to pull through it. But the other quote I like to draw from, if as grim, is a bit more optimistic. (And it’s from a video game, of course.)

I can’t change the fact that I was born a dandelion, and not a rose or a peony or some other big and vibrant flower. But dandelions are resilient, grow without care, they are free as the wind and even though they’re considered to be a nuisance and a weed, they actually are helpful and medicinal, and even help other plants and flowers by bringing in bees and butterflies. At the end of the day I don’t mind being a maskrosbarn; I am independent and strong and can help. I just wish more of society could see people like me that way. In the meantime, I'll settle for seeing myself that way and allowing it to help me be a better person and help others.

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