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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Foster Mama – Part 2

Being a foster parent is broken up into 2 parts:
1)The Easy part
2)The Hard part

The Easy Part – Callie and I have worked in childcare for a ridiculously lengthy amount of time.  She’s been the Director for a childcare center for about 13 years, and I have worked as a preschool teacher on and off for over 10 years.  Loving the kids, caring for them, teaching them right from wrong, nurturing them, helping build a positive self image and self worth, those things  come effortlessly.  We figured fostering would be similar.   We were made to have children, to care for these tiny humans.  Choosing to foster (foster to adopt actually) was something we both knew was in the cards for our family and something we both felt strongly about.  In the past 6 months we have had 2 placements.  Our first was a set of 3.6 year old twin girls. We loved them.  From day one, we loved them.  Our hearts took them in so quickly.  We held them at night when they cried for us.  We potty trained them and made them feel secure enough to get rid of their pacifiers. We sang songs in the car on the way to daycare.  They called us mom.  They loved us too.  Now we have Mary.  She’s our spunky, rambunctious, sassy, quick learning, very expressive 6 and a half year old.  She came to us and didn’t know how to read, had horrible manners, and lots of trust and control issues.  And again, We loved her, From day one.  4 months later, she’s reading everything her eyes come in contact with (even the super long hard words on the ingredients on the cereal box), she’s drawing pictures of rainbows and butterflies instead of dying flowers and crying and rainy clouds.  We rub her back when she’s tired, we put band-aids on boo-boo’s and kiss them better, we give her foot massages while she eats ice cream and the 3 of us cuddle on the couch for Friday Movie Nights.  We read bedtime stories with different voices for every character.  We teach her to fish and to say please and thank you. To wash her hands after potty and to say her prayers for all things good.  Hugs and kisses, hand holding, Loving them, that’s always the easy part.

The Hard Part – When we decided to become foster parents we had to take a 10 week course that trains you for the challenging but rewarding experience that is fostering.  You go to a 3 hour class once a week and you touch upon topics like child abuse, gains and loses, managing behaviors, teamwork and partnership with the birth family, and a whole slew of other things. Being well aware of how to handle many of these situations (through many years of mandated training with our childcare jobs), we felt like this class would be sort of boring and redundant.  We were pleasantly surprised when we left there with a better understanding of how it all worked, and how many different circumstances lead up to children being removed from their homes and entering the “system”. You never really stop to think that maybe a dad lost his job and became very depressed. That he could have gone out with some friends for a few drinks and ended up with a DUI and mom had to post bail but spent all their bill money.  That their 9 year old was hounding them because they promised to take her and 2 friends to the amusement park and now cant afford it.  That they went to the ER for 2 separate incidents in a 3 week period because first mom lost it and ran out of the house as their 2 year daughter chases her, tumbling down the stairs and breaking her collar bone and a week and a half later dad pops the 9 year old in her mouth for being fresh about that damn birthday party and she pulls back and splits her head open on a wall corner (true story). Sometimes, they aren’t horrible parents, just a product of circumstance.  Taking all of this into consideration, you remember that fostering is only temporary, and our main goal is to support the families and the children and do our best to reunify them. We were ok with that.  We were prepared for that.  But after you’ve nursed all those boo-boo’s, dried hundreds of tears, cuddled and loved them when they lost everything they had and you became their new everything, you look at it differently.  You know that they aren’t  yours and that usually (sadly more often then not) they go back to the places that they came from, whether they are half way decent of hardly livable. They go back.  They leave you and take a piece of your heart with them.  You find a left over sock under the bed, or it falls out of your shirt sleeve where it’s been living since your last load of laundry.  You have to let go, and letting go is the hard part.

Mary has been with us since March 28th, 2014.  In the short time that she has been with us she has learned so much from us, but we have learned so much more from her.  We have learned to communicate effectively not only with Mary but with each other.  We try to model appropriate behavior and try our hardest to show her the proper and effective way to communicate your emotions.  We use “feeling” words, like “I’m feeling very sad today” and provide explanations for those emotions, “because someone at work hurt my feelings”.  We try not to raise our voices.  We have sit down dinners every night AT THE TABLE and not in front of the TV.  We try and limit the use of electronics when we are doing family things.   She’s taught us to see the extraordinary in the every day.  Catching fire flies and looking for starfish has never been so fun.  We have more open and honest conversations, and we ask more intimate questions.  We used to ask, “How was your day?” but now the questions are more along the lines of, “So did you laugh till your belly hurt today?” or “Did someone say something that made you sad today?” or “Did you do something today that made you feel good about yourself?”  These are the real questions worth asking.

Mary and her mom have a great relationship.  We know most of the details of the placement, but aren’t really sure what mom’s consequences are for her behavior.  They don’t really give us much info on moms progress.  They did let us know though, that mom put in for an interstate transfer to have Mary moved to an aunt’s house (who she has only seen a handful of times in her life) in CT.  When we spoke to Mary about it and asked her how she felt, she said, “My heart is confused.  I love you guys and I love the babies, but I love my mom and my family too”. My heart is confused…that’s the kind of stuff we like to hear.  We know that so far, in the short amount of time that she has been with us, we have instilled enough confidence, courage, and self worth that she will always do her best to voice what she is feeling and how she is doing.  They say  it can take anywhere from 2-6 months for the transfer to go through, and it usually does.  We asked the case-worker if there is anything we can do to advocate for her.  We believe that Mary going back with her mom is the best option for her.  Her mother isn’t a horrible person.  She isn’t even a bad mother! She’s just someone who made some mistakes and deserves a second chance, provided she comply with everything she was told to do. We aren’t those people that believe sabotaging a reunion could mean an adoption for us.  It’s never been about us. It’s always been about the child, but transitioning her to another home is crazy! She’s adjusted so well and made so much progress socially, academically, and emotionally that taking her away would just create more attachment and abandonment issues and probably send her into a place similar to the one she was in when she came home to us. Mom really likes us, a lot actually, but we aren’t family and that’s where her child belongs (even if it will tear her apart).  Callie and I have been having dreams that they are gonna remove her from our home, and it’s terrifying.  We’re feeling like this day is coming soon, and we’ll have to say our “See you later Coo-Coo”‘s and our “Remember to wash your hands cuz you have all those yucky germs”.  For now, we’ll just keep loving her and teaching her and helping her create some of the best memories she’ll ever have.  The easy part is over, but the inevitable hard part still awaits.

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