Mama’s Chispa-An Update

Life these past 5 days has been an absolute whirlwind! I’m not sure where the hours have gone, but here we are, 5 days after Austin Ryan’s birth and we’re FINALLY starting to get into the swing of things.  Well, as much as we can anyway.  It’s really been completely, utterly, and totally crazy!

There are so many things happening that I don’t even know where to start, but for one, my parents will be back from their 2 month trip to Colombia and I couldn’t be happier.  I have missed them so much.  The only thing I would change about my birth experience would be being able to have my mom there.  I never realized how much I miss her when she’s not here, and how much I rely on her to keep me grounded.  My sister spent most of my time in labor holding the phone up so Mami and I could FaceTime.  It was the next best thing to having her there.  Them being back means loads more help with our other 3 kids.  Callie’s mom works full time and her dad can’t really handle 3 kids on his own, especially two very mobile infants, so having my parents back will be such a helpful blessing.  My aunts have been a godsend, watching the kids until I was discharged.  But now, we’ve been trucking them back and forth to the hospital for the past 2 days taking turns staying with them in the NICU Family Room while the other visits with Austin Ryan.  What’s worse than having one sick kid? 3 sick kids! Noah has a double ear infection and is miserable, and Levi’s cough turned into pneumonia and he’s had a fever for the past couple of days.  Definitely not a good thing when you have a baby in the NICU! My hands are raw from washing and constantly stinging from the amounts of sanitizer I’ve been using.  The good thing is that they are always such happy babies, even when they are sick.

I have been, well, for the most part, a hot damn mess! I spend most of my day crying, and anxious and wanting to be at the hospital.  I wouldn’t say I’m depressed because I’m very aware of what that feels and looks like for me, but I will say that I have a lot going on and it’s quite overwhelming.  Take this week for example! 2 sick clingy kids, adjustment to new daycare routine, wife back at work, Mary with loads of half days at school and no care, Christmas, having a freaking baby 10 weeks early, baby in NICU, and life STILL goes on! Callie and I are still arguing about how to spend Christmas with BOTH families and all I wanna do is go be with my baby.  It’s just terrible, feeling so desperate to be with him, but knowing that life needs to happen.  I wish I had more words to eloquently describe this need and this urge to be with my son and how somehow I don’t care about anything else but at the same time have 3 other kids and a wife that consume my every thought.  Hopefully, these hormones will all smooth out and I can go a day sometime soon without shedding a tear…

Now my little Austin Ryan.  This kid is just, incredible! He’s doing so so well.  As of this morning his bilirubin levels went down so they have been able to take him off of the lights.  They removed both of the lines they had through his umbilical and now has an NG tube for feedings (he is tolerating the breastmilk very well and is having poops and pees consistently!) and a PICC line for the intralipids.  He’s lost the 9oz and is at an even 3lbs but the doctor says that’s good as he’s lost all of the retained water weight.  He still has the CPAP, but currently isn’t getting oxygen since he can do it all on his own! He hasn’t had any Apnea issues in over 24 hours.   His heart rate is great and he hasn’t Brady’d (when the heart rate drops) in over 24 hours.  His temperature was a little low yesterday, but today was good enough that we were able to hold him!  

 I got to hold him also but had forgotten my camera in the Family Room, which was a total bummer.  I also got to change his diaper, which was just so tiny!!!  I sang some songs to him, and he smiled at me when I sang “Beautiful Boy” which I’ve been singing to his brothers since the womb and to put them to bed, and now, this Beautiful Boy gets to hear it in person and not from the inside anymore.  It was the cutest thing.   

 The nurses keep saying how well he is doing, and that there are some babies that even at 32 weeks don’t weigh as much or are doing as well.  He’s such a little rockstar and the nurses are falling in love with his very feisty, very rambunctious personality.  We put up his Christmas stocking and have started getting a few little things to put in there for him.  

 
The only thing I’ll admit having a hard time with is going back and forth about what I could have possibly done differently to have kept him in a little longer. Should i have called the doctor when I thought I was having Braxton Hicks?  Maybe I shouldn’t have had that spicy beef patty.  Should I have called a cab to take the boys to the pediatrician instead of walking uphill?  Should I not have carried the boys so much?! There are so many things I ask myself constantly, even though I know that there really isn’t anything I could have done.  Even though I know that he was ready and that things are happening just as they should.  It’s a hard thing to let go of and to not feel guilty about.  A hard thing to not second guess every little decision that you’ve made up until the point where that baby is placed in your arms.  It’s so so hard. 

My milk has come in and I’ve been pumping A LOT!  The doctor is happy that he doesn’t have to supplement with formula because it’s much easier for the baby to breakdown the breastmilk. I was worried I wouldn’t get any milk because inducing lactation was uncuccesul but, I’m doing pretty well! I get about 10cc per pump, which I’m guessing isn’t terrible! It double from the 5cc’s from yesterday!  Something tells me I’ll get a lot of milk. 

  

  But that’s it for now. I’m hoping to update as often as can, but ya know, 4 kids. Wowzers! 4 kids…

Blessed…

THOSE FACES!

THOSE FACES!

Two Sunday’s ago, Noah and Levi were baptized at our church.  I haven’t had much time to write about it, mainly because I was hoping to get my iMac into the Apple store for a repair (it hasn’t worked since the end of March, and I just haven’t had the opportunity to take it in for service) in order upload the 1500+ pictures that are currently stored on my SD card in my Nikon.  I have some really great pictures I wanted to add, but alas, I’ll just have to post the ones that people sent me, and that Callie and had the opportunity to take on our phones.

So back to the baptism.  I have to say (and so did everyone that attended), it was a beautiful service.  Our pastor had come over a few days before to go over the service with us.  From beginning to end, it focused on our little family.  It incorporated some our favorite hymns.  The readings (they escape me now) had to do with brother/sisterhood and loving one another.  One song that we sung that was performed by our choir at a music festival on the day the boys were born.  I had a solo to perform at the festival, and ended up having to cancel because I was in the hospital, and they sang it in it’s place.  Talk about full circle! It was just beautiful.  During the children’s portion of the service, our pastor explained to the kids what a baptism really is.  How it’s an outward expression of our love for God and an embrace from the congregation to love those children in God’s way.  And embrace us they did.  It was so touching to see so many people love on our our boys, our family, our friends.

LOVING THE STAINED GLASS

LOVING THE STAINED GLASS

For the actual baptism, the whole congregation moved to the back of the church where the baptismal font is.  It is stationed right in front of the huge stained glass windows depicting Jesus’ own baptism performed by John.  Also, a huge (floor to ceiling) pride flag hung in the background.  The sun was shining in, and there were rainbows everywhere.  The whole congregation and our family and friends stood around the font, as Noah and Levi, being held by their godparents, cooed and laughed and blew raspberries. Our pastor read some affirmations and the godparents, Callie and myself responded, and then she asked questions of the church and they responded as well.  Something along the lines of, raising them in faith, denouncing evil  and oppression both in our personal lives and in the church, about teaching and guiding them, and a promise to serve or community through God’s love.  We were totally with that, so every one said “I do” and “I will”.  The church reaffirmed the same.  Then she took the boys one at time, first Levi and then Noah, prayed over them, blessed them with Holy Water, making the sign of the cross on their tiny, curious (and not crying!) heads, and asked us (the 4 godparents and the parents and their big sister Mary of course) to put our hands on them as we all prayed for them.  I have to admit, I got a little misty eyed when people in our congregation closed their eyes, and with their whole hearts prayed for our boys.  Pastor K grabbed both the boys, walked around with them and showed them off the the throngs of people who were so impressed with how well behaved they were.

BLESSING LITTLE LEVI

BLESSING LITTLE LEVI

LEVI'S GOD PARENTS NINA (CALLIE'S BEST FRIEND JENNY) AND PADRINO (UNCLE MARCO)

LEVI’S GOD PARENTS NINA (CALLIE’S BEST FRIEND JENNY) AND PADRINO (UNCLE MARCO)

NOAH'S GODPARENTS, TIA NINA (MY BEST FRIEND NIKKI) AND HIS PADRINO (UNCLE JAY - CALLIE'S BROTHER)

NOAH’S GODPARENTS, TIA NINA (MY BEST FRIEND NIKKI) AND HIS PADRINO (UNCLE JAY – CALLIE’S BROTHER)

PRAYING FOR THE BOYS

PRAYING FOR THE BOYS

After service, Callie and I had set up a really great BBQ for everyone, and we spent the day passing babies around, eating cake and hot dogs and hamburgers, and enjoying the beautiful 80+ degree weather.  It was a great day had by all.  We played some games, talked a little more about our super inclusive church (we have a couple of new members actually), and just enjoyed time with the people we love the most. All in all, it was just a great day, with great people, celebrating our cute little guys…

Also, Mary wants to get baptized when she’s adopted.  That’ll probably be one of the first things she’ll want to do after we change her last name.  She’s all about that too….

We Were So Worried…

for NOTHING!  Absolutely nothing!

First, thank you everyone who commented on my last post about Mary visiting with mom for the first time in months.  Callie and I read all of your replies, and really just love you all so much.  Your support and your kinds words always validate our feelings, address our concerns with kindness and love, and lift us all the way up on our super low and tough days.   So friends (and I’m lucky to call you that), we appreciate you.

Mary had no idea she was having a visit yesterday.  We were worried that mom wouldn’t pass the toxicology test and that Mary would be really upset if another visit was cancelled, so as per our caseworker Karen’s request, we didn’t tell her.  Yesterday morning, Karen received the results of Mom’s tox screening on Tuesday.  Results negative, visit still on, but we still didn’t tell her because what if Mom didn’t show up?!  So we sent her off to school, with no inkling that a bus would be picking her up early, and taking her to see Mom. We debated (several times) calling the school, or having Callie walk over and pull Mary out of class to warn tell her, but Karen advised us to just not say anything because there was still the possibility that Mom wouldn’t show.

But she DID show up.  And the visit went (from what Karen and Mary tell us) pretty well.  The tears didn’t happen until the end, when it was time to leave, and Mary wasn’t ready yet.  She says she needed more time. That the visit was only this long (spreads her hands about 8inches apart). I think she fears Mom will go missing for a long time again and that she had more things to say to her about how she’s been feeling.  Callie and I were texting with Karen most of the day (in iPhone group text fashion) and were just asking her to really try and guide the conversation so that Mary can get some of the answers that she needed from Mom.  How we have been working on her being honest about her feelings because no one can get mad about what is going on inside of her even if it’s something they don’t want to hear or they don’t agree with.  We asked her to explain some of the terminology that we have been using with Mary to convey some of the things that are happening with Mom.  I’m pretty sure when taken out of context, “Mom is sick in her brain” probably makes us sound like real assholes, instead of making us sound like parents using child friendly language to explain the true nature of addiction.  But Mom completely owned it! She told Mary that she has been sick and that she has been working very hard on feeling and getting better.  And we appreciate that, because we are all on the same page, and Mary is getting the same message from ALL of the people that she loves.  That it’s ok to make mistakes because we are all human, but it’s so important to own them and fix them, and try your best.  Must make it a little less frightening and confusing.  At least I hope it does.

They talked about the baby in Mom’s belly, six months along, and how it’s another little girl, and Mary gets to name her (ugh! This is gonna be the topic of conversation for WEEKS!  I just know it!) and Mary chose Lydia (a combination of her and Mom’s names) and she must have told us about it 500 times already in less than 4 hours!  Mary told her about what is going on in school, and how soon, she’ll be going into 2nd grade, and that she is reading sooooo many books and that she reads like a 2nd grader already!  From what it sounds like, she was trying to fit in as much as she could in the short time they had together.  Mom bought a ton of junk from the vending machine, like Oreo’s and Chips, and some other stuff, and Mary told her that those things are yummy, but that you can only have them sometimes because they are not good for you!  #PARENTINGWIN!  This coming from the kid who did this!  And then it was time to come home, but not before a whole lot of tears and clutching onto Mom.

Callie tells me that she was so happy when she got off of the bus.  That she walked in, put her things away, and asked Callie to write her down some questions.  This is her new way of telling us that she wants to talk.  It’s indirect and non-intimidating, and most of all, it’s working.  She’s opening up.  She’s feeling comfortable and happy and safe enough to trust us with what she is feeling and knows that we won’t judge her or make her feel bad or not validate her.  So Callie wrote some questions down.  “How did it feel when you saw Mom?”  “What’s your best memory of you and Mom?”  “What’s your saddest memory of you and Mom?”  “When were you most scared?”  “When were you the happiest?”  “How did you feel when the bus picked you up and you didn’t know where you were going?” Open ended questions that we were hoping she would answer honestly and openly.  And she did!  She totally did.

I got home from work, and we ordered her (and her Mom’s) favorite dinner, Sesame Chicken and fried rice.  We laughed and talked about this weekends plans (Fishing Derby, PRIDE Carnival at our Church which houses our county’s LGBTQ Community Center and has a huge family event Saturday afternoon, and the boys Baptism on Sunday), and the whole time Mary kept making comments about her “family”, meaning US!  YES, US!  Everything was, “my brothers”, “Mommy” “Mama”.  She talked about our upcoming vacations, and a few times, she would just mumble randomly, “I really love my family!”.

At one point, she caught me off guard.

M: “So I made my choice Mama”

S:  “What choice, CooCoo?!”

M: “I choose to stay here!  I want to stay with my family”

S:  (Look of shock on my face) “Your family?! You mean…with us?  You want to stay here, at home, with us?”

M: “Yeah.  This is my family.  I choose you guys!  I choose to stay here.”

S:  “Oh honey, we choose for you to stay here too! We love you in our family.  You’re our daughter, our best girl, my CooCoo bird, our silly lady!  We want you here too! But sometimes, those things aren’t up to us, honey. They are up to the court and the judge.  Hopefully, the judge will see that we all love each other so much, and that we are THE BEST family EVER!”

M: “YEAH! The BEST! Hehe ::huge smile:

S: ” Yeah, hopefully she’ll see we are the best family, and she’ll make the greatest choice, and let you stay. But no matter what happens, you always have a home here, you hear me?! With two mommies that love you, so, so, so, so, so, so much!  So, so much!” (hugs and kisses and cuddles, and i tuck her in)

M: “Mama? Can we pray?”

S:  “Sure Cooc’s. You do it!”

M: “Dear God, please keep my mommy, and my baby sister safe.  That she makes good choices, and that she doesn’t get more sick.  Please let her not be sad at me for choosing my family.  Let the judge make the good choices too.  Bless my brothers and my moms, all of them, and bless me.  Thanks for food and clothes and a nice house.  Oh and Olaf (her huge stuffed animal).”

S: ” And bless our hearts so that they stay open and filled with all of our love, no matter what happens!  Amen. Good night, best girl”

M: “Goodnight Mama.  I love you, and I love my family….”

It COULD NOT have turned out better if we had written a script for it.  She’s safe, she’s loved, she’s home.

She chooses us…

She totally. Chooses. Us…..

SHE'S GOT HER FAMILY, SO NOW SHE CAN SOAR!

SHE’S GOT HER FAMILY, SO NOW SHE CAN SOAR!

My Little 4 Month Olds

4months4 Months old!  Holy Crap! I expected a lot of stuff when my children came into the world, but I didn’t expect for them to grow so quickly!  I can’t believe it!  I wish they would take their time and stop growing, at least for a little while.  But alas, children grow!

NOAH OSCAR

Noah is my main man!  As a mother, I don’t have a favorite, I just love each one differently, and Noah, he’s my sidekick.  My mini-me for sure!  He is my active baby, spending 15-20 minutes on the floor on his tummy, looking at himself in the mirror, reaching for pretty much anything he can get his hands on, and being the easier (and less needy) of our twins.  He is super alert, getting up at around 6:30-7am (giving me just enough time to cuddle with him and give him tons of kisses before I head out to work for the day).  He loves singing really loudly, and cooing to himself, or to his sister, or to the cat, or really to just about anyone who will listen.  He is all smiles most of the day, and hardly ever cries.  He’s a grunter, and slowly, we have figured out what his little grunts mean.  This kid is a laugher too.  The squeals he produces when he thinks something is hysterical are just so great.  Can totally brighten up even the gloomiest days.  He loves playing in his exersaucer, and looking at the bright flashing lights and pressing anything that will result in music or noise.  And the thumb sucking…so bad, but oh so freaking cute!

At his 4 month check up, he was weighing in at 13.47 pounds and measuring 25inches long.  The Dr. said that his Torticolis isn’t anything to be concerned about since we have been working with him diligently since his 1 month check-up, and now that he is spending more time on his belly and stretching and working his neck muscles, it should all sort itself out.  She also said that he doesn’t need a helmet/orthotic band either, at least not yet, and that the shape of his head has improved lots since the last visit at their 2 month check-up.  But really, the best thing about this little guy are those cheeks!  Oh, those cheeks!  Nene1 Nene noahLEVI JAMES

Levi is our squishy boy.  His favorite place to be is his belly on my chest, with his cheek pressed to my nose or lips.  He absolutely HATES tummy time and will barely do 5 minutes without having a complete red faced melt down.  Either way, we let him cry it out for a few minutes (as long as he is fed and dry), because even a little flailing is helping his muscles get a little stronger.  He is our silent observer.  He looks at everything around him with a very watchful and curious eye.  He is hardly ever seen without his Mico (little monkey Wubbanub) and his Owl Wubbie (also sporting a Soothies paci), and will promptly have a meltdown if he realizes that it isn’t within arms reach.  He is holding up his head pretty well and prefers to be sitting in his Bumbo than being on his tummy. He’s not as vocal as his brother, but he makes up for it with how great he is with holding onto things and reaching and playing with all of the toys hanging from his play mat.  He is such a smiley boy, and is rarely in a bad mood.  And all the chins he makes when he smiles (which is pretty often) are totally the best!

At his 4 month check up, he was weighing in at 13.29lbs, and also 25 inches long and really closing in on his brother.  They have always been about 6oz. apart, but little Macho is catching up!  We were concerned that his little (I say TINY but Callie gets super mad at me, because I’m “gonna give him a complex”) penis went inverted all the time (he was circumcised and we were concerned something was wrong) but according to our doctor, he has a really “fluffy” piece on his lower abdomen that is making his penis look smaller then it really is.  She manipulated the “fluff” a little, and voila!  I wasn’t expecting that!  So really, I have two little guys that are well endowed! I was totally concerned!  We also expressed our concern about his hate of tummy time, but she said he was doing just fine and nothing to be worried about.  Our little Macho Man is living up to his name, strong and tough (and apparently packin!)<—-also, not sure what i pressed to make this bold, but ummm, yeah…

LJSummer LJ

machomanThe Boys

They are finally, for the first time, starting to notice each other.  Levi rarely notices Noah, but Noah is all about trying to get his brothers attention.  He laughs at him, bangs in his general directions, yells at him and coos at him, but half the time Macho doesn’t even notice.  It wasn’t until Levi had no more food in his bowl, and Nene had food left in his that he wasn’t eating, that Levi looked over at him, grunted, and then smiled.  I think that was my cue to give him the rest of his brothers food.  twinsAnd since we are on the topic, REAL FOOD! This is one of my favorite things in the world.  Seeing a baby with food all over their face and really enjoying it makes me so incredibly happy.  That is the case for Levi.  He LOVES eating cereal.  When we sit them in their new high chairs (which have also become their favorite places to be this past week- even rocking them forever can’t put them to sleep like these high chairs do, it’s so weird!), he starts kicking his legs and cooing and yelling so loudly waiting for his food.  We introduced peas for the first time at last nights dinner, and Noah wasn’t having any of that either!  He does not like real food AT ALL.  We have to trick him by giving him a few sips of his bottle first and sneaking in a spoonful here and there.  I can’t wait till they start trying a ton of other stuff.  So far they eat and like (at least Levi does) Oatmeal cereal, bananas and now peas.  noah higchair

THEY LOVE THEIR HIGH CHAIRS!

THEY LOVE THEIR HIGH CHAIRS!


BUT THE FOOD, BOT SO MUCH!

BUT THE FOOD, NOT SO MUCH!


SMILING THROUGH HIS FEEDING

SMILING THROUGH HIS FEEDING

boysAll in all, these handsome little guys are healthy, growing stronger and smarter by the minute, and really giving us a hard time with this 4 month sleep regression thing.  Noah is still sleeping through the night (7:30pm-5am) but Levi has taken to staying awake, grunting and cooing in the pack and play from 12-2am for the past week, sleeping on and off for 3 hours,and then is officially away for the day at around 5 am.  You can only imagine the joy that Callie and I are experiencing!  But even the regression in sleep is showing that they are right on target and where they should be.  And even at 2am, when they are screaming loudly and scaring the crap out of us, leaning over into the crib and seeing them all smiles when they see us, makes it all ok….

30 Day Challenge- Day #4 & Day #5

Day 4-Your parents

parents 3 parents 4

I always get really excited when I get to tell a story about my wonderful parents! Although I didn’t realize it growing up, they have always been the epitome of fair and loving. Even now, when all of their children are grown, out of the house, and living their own lives, they still manage to take us away on family vacations, weekends getaways, and our favorite, Sunday Funday family dinners. They still treat us all the same and no one gets any special privileges.  It’s like Mami always says, “Todos en el piso, o todos en la cama!”  Everyone on the floor or everyone in the bed, and that’s how it’s always been.

My Mom – There really aren’t any words to describe the amazing woman that she truly is, mombut I will admit, that our relationship for most of my life has been quite strained.  There was even a point where we barely spoke to each other for the better part of 2 years.  We fought pretty often when I was a teenager, and when I left home at 18, I did it in a very sneaky way that caused an even bigger rift between us.  The phone calls were rare, I hardly showed up at home for family functions, and when I did, I rarely spoke to her.  As the years passed, I realized that all of the things she did, how strict she was, how she constantly challenged me, were only done to make me a better person.  It took me until I was 25 (and lots of therapy and my moms breast cancer diagnosis), to really understand that it was all done in my best interest.  We began to mend our relationship that year, and now, I can honestly sit here and say that my mother is one of my best friends.  She always gives the best advice, and recognizes the struggle.  She’s been through so much in her short almost 50 years of life, and her experience and advice have been invaluable, both to myself and Callie.  My mom is just awesome, and a party animal. She’s a “5K every morning at 5am” runner. She’s a “hot yoga” fanatic.  She loves her Ugg Riding Boots, and a glass of wine in her hand.  She is the life of the party, and gives the BEST hugs when your having the WORST day.  She’s the greatest cook on the planet, and the best grandmother any kid could have.  She’s a multi-tasker who loves BBQ’s and a perfectly manicured yard.  My mom, she’s amazing!

My Dad – I’m glad that I was never given the opportunity to chose my father, because I don’t think I would have made as marvelous of a decision as the Universe did.  My Papi, he dadchose me.  He was young (18) and he took me in as his own.  Barely out of high school, he was working 3 jobs to support my mom and her two children, two children that he could have very well had nothing to do with.  But he didn’t choose that path at all, he chose us, and for that I will be forever grateful.  Lots of my attributes, I inherited from my dad.  He has this incredible ability to see the positive and good in everyone and every situation.  He is one of the funniest people I have ever met, and we are usually greeted with some ridiculous joke when we get together.  We all have his sense of humor.  He has a thirst for knowledge that had us watching Discovery and History channels most of our lives, and reading encyclopedias for fun.  Thanks to my dad, we can watch an episode of Jeopardy and answer just about 3/4 of the questions correctly.  He’s a magnificent grandfather with a wealth of knowledge to offer all of his grandkids.  He’s an inventor and an artist.  The walls of our childhood bedroom were adorned with hand drawn pictures of Mickey Mouse, and Roger Rabbit.  He’s an athlete, who taught us to play a ton of different sports, and never let us quit, which led us all to being state record holders and all league/county/state athletes.  He’s rarely missed one of our games.  My dad is a Renaissance Man, who knows a lot about a lot and he’s managed to instill that in each one of his 5 children.

I’m lucky to have such incredible parents.  I’m glad that they took us on camping trips instead of holidays on some far off island.  I’m grateful for the 6+ hour car rides where they forced us to listen to New Age music from the 80’s.  I’m appreciative of the 1 Game Boy that they bought for 5 kids to share.  It didn’t make sense to me then, but now, as a parent, I get it!  I totally understand.  I hope to be with my kids, the way my parents were with me; Strict, kind, supportive, affectionate, challenging, consistent, and loving…always very loving…but also, ridiculous…just…ridiculous…

parentsxmas

parents5

Day 5 – Your Siblings

I have been very blessed with having a crapload of siblings!  My parents started their family very young, and by the time my parents were 25, they had 5 kids under the age of 8.  We were in a cramped space, with not a lot of material things, so we were forced to play together.  My first best friends were my siblings.  My first fight – siblings!  My first crack at parenting – siblings.  I will admit, I was tough on them, my youngest brother getting it the worst.  I was left with them on my own lots of times, because my parents worked full time but also went together in the evening to work a part time job from 6-9pm cleaning a clinic on weeknights.  At 12 years old, I was responsible for my younger siblings getting their homework done, chores done, brushing their teeth, and getting to bed before my parents got home. It wasn’t easy, but the connection and the bond that it helped to create with my them is one that I cherish every day.  We talk on the phone often, and never hang up without saying “I love you”.  We vacation together, even without our parents, raise our kids together, and continue a lot of the things we did when we were younger, like encouraging each other to be better people.  We party together, we grieve together, we care for each other when we are sick, we make each other laugh with random meme’s in group text, and we always, always remember that “family first”.

Raquel – She is a year younger than I am, and growing up I wasn’t allowed to do anything without her tagging along.  “Ma, I wanna play outside!” “Take your sister!”  “Ma, I’m going to the movies!” “Not without your sister!”  “Mom, prom is in 3 weeks” “Do any of your friends need a date so your sister can go with you?!!”  Seriously!?!  Raquel asked me to be the officiant at her wedding this August.  She doesn’t have a wedding party, so she asked if I would do what a Maid of Honor usually does. I can’t wait!  My sister and I, we are close.  Although she is younger than I am, I have always admired her and wished I could be more like her.  She is a marathon runner, a lover of life, a world traveler, an amazing and trustworthy friend, a maker of time for all things family, and above anything else, she is infectious.  Her smile is contagious, her laughter is toxic and will have everyone doubled over in stitches within seconds, and her love, well that can be felt without her even saying it.  Raquel is one of a kind.

Leo – My brother Leo is from a relationship before my mom and dad met.  He came to the US when he was 8 years old, and quickly made his way into our hearts as a very important and loved member of our family.  Growing up, my Dad always had his pictures up in our house.  When Leo got to the states, he and I instantly formed a special bond.  We were big soccer kids, and practiced together until the sun set.  We were obsessed with playing video games.  We loved watching Yu-Gi-Oh and Sailor Moon.  He was my favorite playmate, and we spend lots of time, leaning over each others shoulders looking into the one Game Boy that we all shared.  Tetris masters?!  That’s us!  We don’t talk as often as we used to be, but every once in a while, outta the blue, I’ll receive or send an “I miss you” message, and it makes my week…every time!

Natasha – My baby sister.  We have always had a very co-dependent relationship.  Ever since Natasha was sleeping in her own bed, it has been a shared bed with me.  We slept in the same bed until pretty much the day I moved out, not because of any reason besides we wanted to. She was my “buddy” growing up, and it was my responsibility to take care of her when we were getting ready in the morning, or when we were on family outings. Nata and I were inseparable growing up.  She was my shadow, doing everything I did.  We slept holding hands, and I would give her licks from my ice cream.  I would take the lollipop out of my mouth and hand it to her without question.  I would even give her the rest of my sweet plantains when their weren’t anymore because I knew how much she loved them.  I would do her chores because I felt that she shouldn’t have to, and I would cry when my parents would yell at her and spank her.  Our relationship has evolved through the years, even switching roles sometimes.  But my little sister will always have a special place in my heart, and lots of times, when I look at her, I still see the chubby little brown skinned infant, crawling towards me under the flat sheet parachute, drolly smile and beautiful brown eyes.  I see it often in the faces of my 2 gorgeous nieces , and it takes me all the way back….

Pudge – My little brother, who actually ended up being the biggest one in our family.  My  handsome, brave, intelligent, hard working, gay little brother.  He and I have quite the history.  We didn’t get on very well growing up.  To me, he was an annoying, entitled, spoiled little brat, and to him, I was just a glorified babysitter.  He spent most of his time in front of the television watching his beloved Power Ranger in his tighty whiteys, leaving me cleaning up behind him and getting in trouble for not making sure that he had done his homework (although he had lied to me about not having any!) But that all changed when my brother turned 18.  He was nervous and scared about letting everyone know who he really was.  My brother came out to me, and thanked me for opening the door for him to be his true self.  Since then, my brother has been a staple in the gathering of my closest friends.  He has made a place for himself in my life, and lots of times when my friends and I plan a weekend trip away , my brother is one of the first ones on the email list.  He knows all things NYC, where the best Sunday unlimited brunches are, and most of my gay lingo comes from my flamboyant brother.  He gives me life in the worst way, and he is completely SICKENING!  My baby brother?! He’s pretty awesome…

Harry – I didn’t grow up with my brother Harry.  I didn’t even know he existed until I was 25 years old.  I missed out on his life, and he missed out on mine, but since we met, we have been trying our best to make up for lost time.  In the past few years, I have witnessed my brother and his girlfriend have 2 beautiful children, exchange wedding vows, go through hardships and also overcome them.  I have shared birthdays with the 4 of them, exchanged gifts, and just enjoyed each others time over a few brews, a BBQ grill, and a few beach chairs.  I have been so lucky to have my life enriched by this new relationship, and continue to enjoy every moment that I spend with the newest member of my immediate family.  Only time will tell how our relationship will continue to grow, and now that we get to raise children together, I look forward to those shared moment even more…

Along with my siblings come a whole slew of in-loves (in-laws for you out there that don’t really dig them as much as I do).  I call them my in-loves because really, that’s what they are!  All of my brothers and sisters in love, really help to round out our family and create the dynamic that makes it incredible to be a part of this family.  Hopefully, soon, we’ll have so many nieces and nephews that we won’t be able to count them on my two hands.  More wedding bells will be chiming this year.  More family vacations to document and laugh about later on.  More babies being born.  More inside jokes and happy hours.  More sleep overs at Wita and Wito’s.  More backyard fire pit follies, and more memories created to carry us for a while.  More love to go around…famwater

TOP ROW - (L TO R) RAQUEL, MYSELF, NATASHA BOTTOM ROW (L TO R) PUDGE, MAMI, YZZY, PAPI, AND LEO

TOP ROW – (L TO R) RAQUEL, MYSELF, NATASHA
BOTTOM ROW (L TO R) PUDGE, MAMI, YZZY, PAPI, AND LEO

DIN# D.A.D…

A DIN# is the the Department Identification Number given to inmates in the custody of the New York State Department of Corrections.  It is a number that is given to those who need access to an inmate, either on a visiting day or by corresponding through written snail mail. 07***03 belongs to my father.  My biological father that I know nothing about.  The father, that in my 31 years of life, I have only seen twice and written to a handful of times.  A father who barely knows anything about me, let alone all of the exciting things that have been going on in my life as of recent.

My whole life, I grew up in a home where my parents were the center of my life.  I have an amazing mother and a wonderful father that took me in at age 2 when he was only 17 years old, and raised me like his own.  To this day, that’s my Papi, my Papá, my Daddy, and no one will ever take his place.

Yesterday was my nephew Andy’s 2 year birthday party.  He is my brother Harry’s son, my only brother from my biological father.  We met the week before fathers day, on a 100+ degree day in mid-June 6 years ago.  Since then, our relationship has flourished and he has allowed me the opportunity to share in his life.  He has blessed me with a sister-in-law that I love and adore, a gorgeous and funny niece, and a handsome and ridiculously smart nephew.

ANDY

ANDY

SADIE

SAYDIE

Both of our relationships with our father is incredibly strained, and futile at best.  While at my brother’s home, I noticed a photo on his refrigerator.  It was a Polaroid of my brother, my father, and myself taken those 6 years ago, on Father’s day, when we decided to take the trip upstate, and visit our father for the first time at his correctional facility.  It was all really overwhelming, but what was even more overwhelming was how fate played a huge role in making that long awaited for day take place.

Some 13 years ago, my maternal uncles wife was the instructor of a step aerobics class at a small karate studio some 5 miles or so from where my family lives.  A few women attended the class weekly, 2 of which were my uncles 2nd or 3rd cousins.  This aunt, (let’s just call her PB for Psycho Bitch, but that’s for a whole other blog post!) had no clue the relation between her husband and these women.  One day my uncle goes to PB’s class to drop off some stuff for one of their 4 daughters game, and is greeted by none other than his 2 long lost cousins that he hasn’t seen since he was a teenager.  They get to chatting and asking about each others families and all the siblings and rest of the cousins, being that they lost touch around the time that my mother was pregnant with me.  She asked about me, my mother, and if I had seen my biological father lately.  My uncle responded with, “What father?! She knows who her father is!”  (All of my aunts and uncles are very protective of my relationship with my stepdad {i only use step-dad for the sake of not confusing anyone during this post})  The cousin replies, “Well, I know where he is! He is married to the cousin of my cousin, and in the Dominican Republic!”. PB was intrigued and started asking the questions about my bio father every week (you can see already the beginnings of why no one in my family speaks to nosy ass PB).  A few months later, I am at a friends house, in a drunken stupor, playing our 5th round of “Sequence”, and listening to depressing love songs and a ton of slow jams, and my phone rings with a weird 718 number that I don’t recognize.  I asked my friend to answer it..

“Sammie’s Phone!”

“Yes, I look for Samantha Leyba”

“If you mean Samantha Mendez then, yeah, how can I help you?”

“Jew Samantha? I calling frong jew father.  Thees eh his seester.  I call for Samantha.”

“Hold on please….(wide eyed and mouth agape) HOLY SHIT Sammie! This lady on the phone claims to be your aunt!  From. Your. Father’s. Side!!!”

Cue racing heart! I had always thought about that day, but you can imagine how conflicted I was when it actually happened.  What’s my {step}dad gonna think?  How am I going to explain to him that no one would ever take his place?! How do I tell my mom that I am actually going to meet these people, this other side of me that I never even bothered to think existed?  How would I feel once I met them? How would I react to their sudden affection and questions about my life?! Was I ready to come out to these people?  Was I ready to let them in? All of these questions started flying through my head the second that I got off the phone with her.  All I got from the conversation was that they lived in the Bronx, they would all be together (my 2 aunts, 3 uncles, a slew of cousins) that coming Saturday, they would be beyond excited if I went, and the they had been looking for me for so many years with no success.

I go to the store, I buy a new outfit, I get my hair braided, and I prepare myself for the emotional mess that I would probably be that Saturday.  I show up, and walk into a room filled with people embracing me and welcoming me into this huge extended family.  I meet my aunts and my uncles, and I immediately see the resemblance.  We all have the same nose! My whole life I wondered about my nose, and now I knew the answer.  We sit and chat and they ask questions for the better part of an hour.  They shove a plate of food in my face but I am too anxious and nervous to eat.  I pick at chicken and rice.  The door bell rings.  Everyone’s faces freeze in time and look directly at me.  My aunt gets up to answer the door.  She tells me, “Ven aquí”, come here, and I make my way to the door.  As she opens the door, it’s like looking into a mirror.  My face is reflected back at me, and I knew.  I knew right away that it was my brother.  We looked at each other and ran and hugged, both sobbing hysterically.  He’s feeling my hair, and touching my face, and I do the same. “Is this real?!?!” “You’re my brother/sister?!?!?”  “Is this happening!” “We have the same nose!” “Our eyes are the same color” “Look at your hair so curly like mine” “We were gonna call the radio station to look for you!”.  The words are coming out a mile a minute.  Our family watches on with tears in their eyes.  We meet.  Finally.  Without me even knowing that he existed and i had missed him.  Terribly.  We talk and make plans to see our father the next day, Father’s Day 2008.

HARRY AND I TWINNING

HARRY AND I TWINNING

The next day, we meet up early, and make the 1hr 40 minute trek to the correctional facility.  Our father has no idea we are coming.  He doesn’t even know we have met or that they found me.  We get scanned, head in to a large room filled with white tables and blue plastic chairs that look like elementary school chairs but super-sized.  We wait facing the door where the inmates come in.  Every man that steps forwards could be him, but we somehow knew it wasn’t.  When our father walked in, we squeezed the others hand because we knew.  We stood up, and we walked towards us, tucking in his shirt, fidgeting with his pants, and standing straight and tall seeing his two grown children waiting for him for the first time in God knows how long.  He hesitated and then hugged us.  We all cried, but our reunion was cut short with a reminder of, “That’s enough physical contact inmate!” It was awkward and weird, and filled with a ton of truths that I’m still not so sure I’m ready to hear, but it began a relationship with my brother that I cherish, and a relationship with my father that is a constant work in progress.  I left that day feeling confused, hurt, loved, connected, disjointed.  The ride home was a quiet one as the space between my brother and I danced with the ghost of our lives before this day in the sunlight of our futures together.

The reason I am writing about this is to find some clarity and remember the hope that I felt that day.  I’ve been struggling with letting him know that he is going to be a “grandfather”.  That there are these two beautiful little creatures on their way into this crazy world.  I feel like I am betraying my {step}dad even though he is probably the only grandfather they will know for at least the next 10 years.  But I look at my brother.  He told our father about the kids, and went to see him twice, but nothing has changed.  They are still grandfatherless kids. He doesn’t call.  He doesn’t write.  He doesn’t send birthday or Christmas cards.  Will anything really be different? Will anything really change  I hope that thinking this through calms my anxiety a bit, and I find some clarity and courage to write the words to him that I need to write and express.  My boys will have their “Wito” (short for Abuelito) and they will have Harry Sr. who they probably won’t ever remember seeing.  The worst part is, it’s not like my {bio}dad doesn’t want a relationship with us.  It can just be incredibly tedious and frustrating to foster a new relationship from behind 4 iron gates and cement walls. For now, I will write to him, with my heart and share good news that he probably needs to hear…his little girl is having 2 little boys.

An Emotional Hot Trainwreck of a Mess…

And that’s just how I have been feeling!!!  I don’t know what is going on, but it feels like I am getting all of Callie’s pregnancy symptoms.  She feels great AMAZING, and I, on the other hand spend most of my days wishing we were together (we work opposite shifts and my days off are Friday and Saturday, so we get one day for “family day” per week), crying as I listen to music and catch up on my TV shows (Thanks A LOT “The Fosters”!), craving chocolate like it’s no ones business, and dealing with the soreness/tenderness of my breasts as I continue on my journey to try and establish a significant milk supply/flow to help sustain my twinfants. I’m basically feeling everything that Callie is feeling (with the exception of the actual babies, which she technically isn’t feeling yet, although this morning she sent me a text that she THINKS she might have felt one of them but it might just be that she was really hungry) even though I’m not pregnant.

As I was driving to work at 5am, I was listening to a CD that Marco made for our drive up to this past weekends hike. Ed Sheeran (with his amazing soothing voice and fantastically ginger hair) started playing a song that I had heard before but never really paid much attention to.  To make a long story short, it has to do with miscarriage and is incredibly touching and heartbreaking (Ed Sheeran – Small Bump).  When I tell you that I needed windshield wipers INSIDE my car, that is no exaggeration.  The waterworks were in full effect.  My first thought was , WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH ME?!?! I started to analyze why I have been feeling the way that I have, not just recently with the whole pregnancy, but for the better part of the past 2 years while simultaneously scrolling through FB.  I was reading a friends post about vulnerability and allowing yourself to be vulnerable, and then it hit me!

For the better part of my life, I was very guarded, as I’m sure many of us are.  I grew up in a family where everything was great, and don’t you dare say otherwise.  “Don’t you dare cry, or I’ll give you something to cry about” kind of home.  Don’t get me wrong, I had the best time growing up.  In retrospect I had the best childhood that anyone could have asked for.  I lived with my loving, accepting, tolerant and encouraging parents who drove us to all of our soccer, field hockey, basketball, softball games and swimming, karate, and attended every concert or musical that we were in.  I have 4 incredible siblings that I would die for.  We are all very close in age (I’m 31, sis-almost 29, bro-27, sis-26, bro-25 as of yesterday) and spent lots of time in cramped spaces, like 8 hour road trips to Niagara Falls.  I wasn’t allowed to go ANYWHERE unless all the ducklings were right behind me.  To this day, family dinners on Sunday at my parents are a non-negotiable, and I love that about my family.  We all live within 10-15 minutes of each other with the exception of my youngest brother who lives in Brooklyn, but him and his boyfriend visit all the time and probably spend the most time at my parents of all 5 of us (Yup! My handsome and hilarious younger brother is gay too and has been with his partner for almost 3 years).  If I’m to speak candidly, (and why wouldn’t I?) sadness was just one of those emotions that got pushed away.  “What are you sad about? Look at how great your life is!” Although this was probably said to teach us to appreciate everything we have and think, “Hey! It could be worse!”, for someone as emotional and sensitive as me, it was pretty difficult to deal with.

I learned very early on to bottle up my emotions.  To cry only in the shower where no one could see me.  To wait until my sisters had fallen asleep so that then, and only then, I could grab my pillow and scream into it until I couldn’t scream anymore.  To take out my aggression and express my anger on the playing field.  To become these characters in the school plays and musicals and in some ways live vicariously through them, even if it was fictional and temporary.  All I really wanted was for my mom to kiss me and my dad to hug me when I was sad or mad (they did plenty of it all the other times, believe me – my family is incredibly affectionate), but they rarely did, and even then it was awkward and uncomfortable.  So being sad or angry was just not something we did well with.

Being or allowing myself to be vulnerable was out of the question. It would mean that I could be hurt, and the hurt would lead to sorrow, and sorrow would lead me into this abyss of darkness, despair, and depression.  For a long time, I lived my life devoid of anything that would lead to the risk or possibility of getting hurt.  For the better part of 16-26, I was just a mess.  Drinking, drugging, cutting class, obsessed with my relationships and my inability to let them go, and not allowing anything to effect me emotionally.  A lot of people even went there, and called me ” A cold-hearted bitch”.  It’s fine because I totally owned it.  I might have even been proud of it! I didn’t give a crap about anything. You’re mom died? Sorry! People die everyday.  You’re dog died? He’s a freaking dog! You lost your job? What the hell am I supposed to do about that? (I didn’t really feel like this, I swear it, but I wasn’t sure how I was really supposed to feel or express any of it) I was so numb that on 3 separate occasions I tried to take my own life (19, 21, 26).  At 26, I decided I didn’t want to feel that way anymore. Another failed 4 year relationship and I was done.  I committed myself to an inpatient hospital where I spent 2 months of my life doing Intense therapy, DBT, and acknowledging that my way of coping was not effective at all.  After that, I moved back in with my parents (who after the birth of my niece have become emotional wrecks themselves and have NO ISSUES WHATSOEVER showing us tears of joy, relief, sadness, anger and every other emotion you can possibly think of).  My mom visited me in the hospital every day, brought me dinner every night, asked how I was feeling, and listened.  Really listened.  They actually said, I HAD to move back home and that they weren’t taking no for an answer. I have no way to repay them for what they have done for me.  They helped me enroll in a full day outpatient DBT program which my dad drove me to M-F and picked me and asked me what I learned about myself every night at dinner. That gesture in itself was therapeutic.

One of the most important things I learned was to embrace being vulnerable. “Open myself up to these things? What the hell for?!?” But the more I practiced, the more I realized that for every possible little bit of sadness that I let in, I was also letting in possible joy.  Even when there was sadness, I had all these amazing feelings of happiness to override that.  That feeling sad wasn’t that bad! You feel it, recognize it, and move on.  I could actually feel things and come out the other side a better person.  Like, really feel them, and feel them with people and for people, and have an appropriate response.  What I realized the most about allowing myself to be vulnerable was that it actually felt like I was living.  I wasn’t simply going through the motions.  I was truly knee deep in life.  All these things were coming at me from every direction (my aunt who is my second mother getting diagnosed with beast cancer, a huge fall out between a ton of my family members, trying to start a new relationship after nearly 2 years of selfishly working on myself, losing a great paying unionized job as a carpenter in NYC because of my time in psychiatric care, moving from the NYC where I had been for nearly 10 years back home to the suburbs which I had outgrown) and I dealt with them.  And I wasn’t the worse for wear. Who woulda thought! I was alive and feeling, and that was okay with me.  Better than okay!  It was amazing!  So now, after having analyzed this, I see that my pseudo-pregnancy symptoms are just me living and feeling and accepting.  Of course I feel sad when I hear the terrible news about someone losing their precious baby, or when pets leave us, or even when something as simple as a rain storm ruins our one family fun day that we had been looking forward to.  How could I not!?! So even though they are sad tears, they are still happy tears for me.  My kids will always know hugs and kisses and validation of their feelings.  They will see their Mamá cry, breakdown, pick up the pieces, pray, laugh, dance, and love.  A Mamá with a big ole’ vulnerable heart.  Mi corazón estará abierto para ustedes…<3

My amazing family...

My amazing family…

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