Defining Family: Before I Got Adopted, My Mom and I Had to Build a Relationship

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By Manny Sanchez, 16
New Youth Connections, New York

By the time I was sent to my third foster home when I was 8 years old, I felt I was trapped in a circle of revolving doors, and I didn’t think I’d ever be able to stay in one place.

On my way there, I was already worried about where I’d get sent next. I was also scared of what my new foster mom would be like. I pictured her as a witch with razor-sharp teeth and claws.

I walked to the door with my brother Daniel and my social worker and rang the bell. I heard barking and I was terrified at what she might have in that house.

The door opened, and I saw a woman with a happy face. She welcomed us in, but I was cautious, due to what I’d heard at the door. Then I looked down, and saw a little dog whose bark was way bigger than his bite.

I looked around the apartment and I liked what I saw, but I was still on my toes.

The woman said her name was Melba. She showed us our room and told us to make ourselves at home, but I didn’t unpack my things just yet. I felt like there was no point, since we would be leaving soon anyway.

Melba and my social worker talked in the living room, and I started to imagine the horrible things she would do when my social worker left.
When my social worker came in to say goodbye I thought, “Yup, this is it.” I heard the door slam shut and my heart started to pound, but I played it cool and sat on the bed. Melba’s mouth opened, and just when I thought she was going to breathe fire, she asked, “Are you guys hungry?”

Daniel said “Yes,” but I said “No.” I was hungry, but I wasn’t comfortable asking her for anything. When she went to use the bathroom, I ran to the kitchen and grabbed a little something to eat.

The first few months were all the same. I would get home from school, go to my room, close the door, and do my homework. When Melba would ask if I was hungry, I’d usually say no. At dinnertime, I would just stay in my room.

Melba would come in and ask if I’d finished doing my homework. I have to admit, it felt good to know she cared. We’d sometimes have little awkward encounters – maybe a “Hey” or “Hi” but nothing more than that.
After five or six months, I noticed Melba’s consistency when it came to feeding me and checking my homework.

I started to feel a little warmer inside. I began to answer “Yes” when she asked if I was hungry, and I started leaving the door to my bedroom open. We even started to have conversations about things we liked or had in common. Pretty soon I started to hug her when I came home from school.

On my ninth birthday, Melba took Daniel and me to the World Trade Center, which I’d never visited. When we got to a huge building that towered over me, she said, “We’re here.” I thought that we were going to do something boring, but I was shocked when we got inside. There was a huge variety of stores and restaurants. I’d never seen anything like it in my entire life.

We got to eat pizza at a cool restaurant, which I wasn’t used to. When we sat down, I tried to think of the last time I’d eaten at a table like that. I was so happy that Melba remembered my birthday, took me somewhere, and had gotten me a present.

After that, I opened up a lot more. I believed that Melba had paid her dues and earned her stripes as my foster mom. I started talking to Melba a lot, and I often found myself to be the one starting the conversations.
Around the time I turned 14, I realized adoption was a possibility. We didn’t really talk about it, but as time went on I knew that eventually it had to happen.

One day, Melba sat me on the couch and said, “If you want to be adopted, I am here for you.” I had grown to love Melba, but the idea that I couldn’t live with my parents again seemed weird to me and made me sad. I had to think about my situation before I could make a decision.

For years, my birth mother had filled my head with the dream that I’d be going home. But when I finally realized that going back home wasn’t going to happen, I knew that adoption was what I wanted. Now we’re in the process of making that happen.

Melba and I have developed a bond over the past several years. I am happy that I finally got a break from the negativity. She has been my salvation. We started from one brick, and built a skyscraper of trust, understanding, and love.