Have you ever wondered what it’s like to live out of a garbage bag?
Many kids who are in the foster care system move from home to home carrying their belongings in a garbage bag. I had forgotten about this memory until I saw the movie “Instant Family” which is a movie centered on fostering and adopting. The director, Sean Anders, took a serious topic and mixed it in with some humor to give you a heartwarming story. Mr. Anders, like my parents, adopted 3 children and shared some of his experiences in the movie. The main character is Mark Wahlberg who plays the part of the adoptive father.
Windsor-Essex Children’s Aid Society had recruitment booths set up in the movie theaters where the social workers and I took the opportunity to hand out pamphlets and answer any questions about fostering and/or adopting that individuals had after they watched the movie.
My mom believes in the African saying “that it takes a village to raise a child”, so I decided to invite part of “my village” and go watch “Instant Family” together. After the movie, my family and I reminisced about our experience in the adoption process and my mother shared with us how she had forgotten about the garbage bags. When we were brought to my adoptive parents’ home, our belongings were in garbage bags and cardboard boxes. We didn’t have much, just some clothes and a couple of toys. One of my goals this fall is to do a fundraiser to raise money to buy suitcases and backpacks so kids can carry their belongings in a more dignified way.
As I look back, I am so grateful for what I have. I will never forget where I came from. I can’t lie, living in foster homes and being adoptive comes with its own problems as it is traumatic for kids to be moving, but it is all in the hope of giving kids a better life. My parents have done a lot of praying, loving us unconditionally, and believing in us. My mom has worked as a Certified Financial Planner and my dad is a Professional Engineer of Ontario who writes Scientific Research and Experimental Development tax credit reports for clients across Canada and the United States and even though they are both highly educated and had a birth son, they still needed the help of social workers to teach them how to parent us, with all our crazy behaviors. My parents had a village of people from family members, friends, neighbors, school staff, and church members, always being willing to help and when we messed up, there was no judgment from anyone, only unconditional love.
I was taken from my birth mom when I was 6 months old along with my 2-year-old brother. A year later, my sister was born and she was taken at birth. We were in the foster care system for 3.5 years and moved at least 6 times. We were moved for many different reasons. We never had a solid foundation to call home until August 5th, 2006. That is the day God provided me and my brother and sister with a second chance at a different and better life. Yes, we were trouble makers at first because we all thought “oh this isn’t permanent, we will be moving again soon”, but little did we know that this family would be our forever family.
As the years went on, we became better-behaved kids and started to learn the importance of family. This is why I am so passionate to help other kids find a forever family so they can have a safe home where they are loved and can grow to their full potential. As I said in one of my past public speaking events, “you don’t know who they are destined to become and after you take away the layers of pain, you will find a child who has so much potential in growing into a successful adult.” Having a strong family connection is so very important. There is a saying “Friends will come and go but, Family is forever“. I agree with this quote because, throughout the years, friends come in and out of your life but when you look around, you realize the people that are still there and always there, are family.
Through it all, I have learned the value of family. It is sad that in today’s society, we often take the people closest to us for granted. I think I drive my mom and other people nuts because I often will stop what I am doing and just give hugs and show my love. It is very important for me to let people know how much I love them and how much I appreciate what they do for me. I have learned not to take love, and family for granted.
I was lucky to have been adopted by an Irish father and an Italian mom. My mom is half Fruilana and half Calabrese. A mixture of north Italy and south Italy which makes for interesting times as each province has very different traditions and viewpoints. Let’s just say that the Calabrese moms don’t allow sleepovers, and being home by 11 pm and many other rules.
There are so many traditions we have as a family. I want to share some of our crazy traditions as I am proud of my Italian heritage. By blood, I am also part Italian, from Sicily.
In January, we follow the Italian custom to buy a couple of whole pigs and make homemade sausages and soppressata and other cuts of meat. When I was little, I used to stuff the meat in the grinder to make the sausages. As a teenager, the story is a little different. This year I didn’t help and actually went vegetarian for a while but being vegetarian in an Italian family can be a challenge, especially with a Calabrese nonna who wants you to eat all the time.
In March, we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day to honor my dad’s Irish heritage plus my oldest brother’s name is Patrick. We usually invite our neighbors, the Kennedy family, to join us and have traditional Irish dishes like Irish Stew with dumplings, Irish potato cakes, Soda Bread, and many other dishes.
In April we celebrate Easter. One of the Calabrese Italian tradition is homemade Italian Easter Bread with eggs braided in the bread. As a young lady, it is a right of passage to learn how to make the Easter bread.
Another tradition that my nonna likes to follow is to eat homemade ravioli for our big Easter meal. This year, my nonna, my sister Lianna and I made homemade ravioli together. I love spending time with my nonna and learning to cook. The Easter meal this year was delicious as usual.
When we made the ravioli, we had leftover dough so my nonna, who doesn’t waste anything decided to use it up and make homemade fettuccine which was also very delicious.
She also taught me, my sister Lianna and my parents’ godson Justin to make homemade gnocchi when we were little.
In May, we plant gardens. This year, because of COVID and being stuck at home, my dad took the time to build a raised vegetable garden and I planted it. I planted watermelons, peppers, tomatoes, and cucumbers. Every morning I go out and pick what is ripe. It is very exciting to see plants grow.
Although, for next year, I need to have my Zio Pino teach me how to space the plants as I overdid it this year and created a forest instead of a neat garden. Vegetables still are tasting delicious.
In July, we make homemade antipasto with the Kennedy and Malandrucolo family. This is a northern Italian tradition. It contains tuna, small onions, cut up cucumbers, beans, and carrots.
In August, we make homemade tomato sauce. This is one of my favorite traditions. I love to help my mom make the sauce. I have to admit that my family and I are spoiled because now we can tell the difference between store-bought or restaurant made and my mom’s sauce. Nothing beats my mom’s sauce.
When tomato season comes, just like sausage-making or winemaking, it becomes a celebration and a family reunion as everyone takes turns helping each other make their own sauce for the year.
September is fig season. My nonna tells me stories of her figs in her province of Calabria. My nonna lives in an area where everyone has manicured lawns and swimming pools but my nonna instead dug up half her lawn and planted tomatoes, oregano, zucchini, beans and so much more. Her backyard looks like a forest. She planted 3 or 4 fig trees in her garden and every year my Zio Pino has to cover them with bags full of leaves which he goes around the neighborhood collecting and then wraps the bags around the tree with a black tarp to prevent them from feezing so we can have figs for next year.
In October we celebrate Thanksgiving which means winemaking time. This too becomes a family affair. One quality of Italian families is that we always have room for more people in our homes as you can see from the picture above of the long table. We have the grown-up room, then another room with food in the middle, and at the end is the “kids” room.
My nonna always cooked more for whoever stopped by unexpectedly and my mom does the same. I also have picked up this Italian disease of making sure everyone is fed. Last year at the Miss Teenage Canada pageant, when we could socialize in close proximity, the night we arrived, I cooked grill cheese for all the girls on the floor and fed them. I also brought homemade tomato sauce and cooked pasta for my roommates. By the time I got home from the pageant, my sandwich maker didn’t work. I thought I broke it but I just had overworked it and it went on strike for a couple of weeks until it started working again. I love to cook and bake and make sure everyone around me is well taken care of.
In November, we go Christmas tree hunting and decorate our tree and create a scene of the manger. My father always tries to find the biggest one. I think 2016 was the record tree. We had to have a tractor come and help us bring the tree to where they bind the it up to bring home as we couldn’t get it on the cart.
My Zia Vera makes the most amazing mangers and scene under her Christmas tree with real bark of trees and moss.
We go Christmas tree hunting at Sloan’s in Bothwell, Ontario. The Christmas tree hunting crew are families in our neighborhood who join us and the Kennedy family on our excursion. They now have become another family.
Of course, in December, we have Christmas. We cook for days making different dishes and desserts. Our Christmas Eve is the most important meal. Everyone must attend. Then Christmas Day can be wherever; so if you are married, Christmas Day is the day for inlaws. Our Christmas Eve is filled with fish dishes. We don’t eat any meat on Christmas Eve. The other Southern Italian tradition is to eat spaghetti with anchovies and chopped walnuts and butter which we kids don’t like, so we get to eat spaghetti with meatless tomato sauce.
Each year we take a family picture. Looking back at how the family has changed makes me feel grateful and blessed.
Another interesting tradition in December is winter golf. My father and grandfather started this tradition of golfing in the winter 30 years ago. They found a golf course that would allow them to golf in the snow. They are both very passionate about golf and so is my brother Patrick. They invite me every year but golfing in minus 15 degrees isn’t appealing to me.
I hope you have enjoyed reading and learning about my culture and the things I love. I was blessed with a forever family. I am passionate on helping other foster children find their forever home. Children in the foster care system are all hoping to have a forever family and to get to have memories like mine.
My forever family has shown me that no matter what happens in life, a family is forever.