Born into the high rise housing projects of 115th Street and Second Avenue of New York City’s East Harlem neighborhood, her formative years were marred with the tragedy of parental crack-cocaine addiction, alcohol abuse and domestic violence.
One late October afternoon in 2005, a representative from New York’s Administration for Children’s Services called me and pleaded for me to take temporary custody of her while expressing concerns over her mother’s addiction and erratic behavior. I petitioned the courts for custody in November, and by Friday, December 3rd was granted Temporary Custody.
Accompanied by two police officers, I went to her Harlem apartment only to realize that the doors had been locked by the housing authority and she had been evicted from her home that very day. I spent several hours driving up and down the city with no luck, and called the police to file a missing person’s report while at home. On that Sunday, my aunt called me stating that my mother would meet me on 125th Street and Broadway to hand over my sister as long as I arrived without the police.
On that Sunday, December 5, 2005, my wife and I were immediately catapulted into parenthood years before we were ready to have children of our own. The event changed our lives tremendously, and the first year greeted us with the challenge of raising a 6 year old girl with severe developmental delays, an addiction to sugar and coffee and tooth decay on twelve of her little baby teeth.
Now over seven years later, our sister has been in general education classes and on the honor roll since first grade, has all her teeth fixed, is speaking intelligently and lives a happy and productive life. At 13 and a half, she helps with responsibilities around the home and entertains the kids while enjoying her own space, volunteers at a local hospital, shares an obsession with the Twilight Saga with my wife, plays with her Nintendo DS, writes music and poetry and plays the keyboard.
Over five years and three dozen visits to New York City family court finally changed her status to permanent custody with limited visitations with her parents. Her mother, now in recovery for five years sees her often and for the time being the court visits have come to an end.
She has been at the heart of the struggle and owns an intimate understanding of our sacrifice as well as her hardships. In exchange, she’s promised to one day be a successful woman and ultimately take us on a trip to Hawaii.
I look forward to guiding her through high school and college and aiding her success in any way we can. Additionally, I look forward to feeling the warm summer breeze flowing into my lavish hotel room overlooking a bronze sunset over the oceans of Maui.