After a painful childhood in foster care, Natalie Carson tells Yahoo Parenting that for the first time ever, she’s looking forward to her birthday this year thanks to an ad she placed on Craigslist looking for a family to rent on the big day. (Photo: The E.W. Scripps Co).
Natalie Carson’s birthday has always been her least favorite day of the year. After growing up in an abusive foster home where she says the milestone was often a terrible experience, the 19-year-old tells Yahoo Parenting, “I usually just try to sleep through my birthday, and holidays too.”
Recalling one year with her foster parents in Georgia, the college student says her grandmother got her a doll and her dad made her walk outside and throw it in the trash. Ever since then, Carson admits that to get through the annual event, “I just think, ‘Go rest and it’ll be over in the morning and you won’t have to think about it again until next year.’”
But all that changed this year when the teen, who aged out of foster care at 18 and moved to Denver where she was born, decided to give herself a gift for turning 20 on June 10 — her first happy birthday celebration.
Inspired by a similar post that she’d seen on Craigslist from a girl in California, Carson posted a “spur-of-the moment” request to rent a family to spend her birthday with her for $8 an hour. “I just want one day that I can feel important and special, and like I matter even if I really don’t,” she wrote in the solicitation, posted on Wednesday. “I have never had a good birthday so I figure why not this birthday.”
Carson says it’s the first time she’d ever written in to Craigslist and immediately felt nervous about putting herself out there. “I’m sure people wonder if I’m a real person or if I’m crazy,” she says. “And by the same token, I wondered who would respond.” But then the local news contacted her she says, “I thought, ‘Too late to take it down now.’” As soon as ABC News 7 Denver featured Carson’s quest for a family party, the grocery store clerk says she got inundated with responses to the ad.
“I swear I’m getting 4 emails a minute now,” estimates the student, expecting to complete a degree in computer science next year. “I think I’ve gotten more than 1,000 emails.” The notes, from as far away as Australia and Canada, are equal parts messages of support, consolation from others who’ve been through foster care, offers of gifts, and messages about wanting to join Carson on her big day.
“It makes me feel really good,” she says, noting that some people have even offered to fly her out to their hometowns to throw her a party. “Now I feel more hopeful about my birthday, and more happy. I feel a bit bad too, though in a way, because I’ll be 40 before I can celebrate my birthday with all of these people. I want to be like, ‘Will you be willing to wait until I’m 40?’”
And as flattered as she is by all of the generous gift offers — including cars, money, and a big party in her honor at her local police station — Carson says what she’s really looking is a simple, personal, positive experience.
“I just want a normal birthday, nothing extravagant,” says the student, adding, that she doesn’t even like “fancy dinners. That’s not my personality.” Her dreams are more along the lines of a small gathering with cake and balloons outdoors in a park or by a lake. “I just want something low-key.”
All of the thoughtful comments and connections she’s made from her ad are gift enough, after all. “They make me feel good — and seeing everyone wanting to help me has made me more motivated to do more to help other people,” says Carson, already asking that the people writing her with offers of money use those funds to help foster kids. “I’m not sure yet exactly how, but I want to figure out a way to try and help other kids aging out of foster care who don’t have any people to support them or mentors.”
Support, as she’s learned is a powerful thing. With all that she’s gotten this year herself, Carson says, “I feel like I’m really finally looking forward to my birthday.”