WALLINGFORD — The pancakes, eggs, bacon, and potatoes were abundant Saturday morning at the Wallingford restaurant. More abundant, however, were the laughter, joking and smiles at the Santos’ large table, where the family was celebrating National Adoption Awareness Month.
“Those are my babies and I love them with the same love I have for my others,” said mother Marysel Santos, smiling at her two adopted daughters, who were sitting in between her biological sons in the IHOP restaurant.
The Santos family is comprised of eight people: Parents, Jose Antonio and Marysel. Their four grown sons, one with his own family and one away in the Air Force, and two adopted girls, Yarisel, 14, and Marelys, 11.
“We were trying for girls because we wanted to experience girls around the house. We fostered before we adopted,” Marysel Santos said. “We always wanted to adopt but we wanted to experience different nationalities.”
The Meriden couple fostered a total of 13 girls of various races and ethnicities over a period of years, and it wasn’t easy, they said.
“Oh, the first one was so hard,” Jose Santos remembered. “They all just got so attached to us they didn’t want to leave.”
Almost eight years ago, Yarisel, then 7, came into their home and eventually became available for adoption. At the time her name was Nalani.
“But I didn’t want the chains of old memories so I changed it,” she said. “I wanted to start a new life.”
Today, the 14-year-old is a freshman honor student at Platt High School in Meriden.
She said her friends know she was adopted and often tell the story of when the adoption became official and Yarisel brought her adoption certificate and plaque to school.
“It’s better, so much better than before,” she said looking over at her parents at the head of the table. “I’d tell others don’t be afraid to show who you really are. Don’t change who you are.”
Four years ago, Marelys also came to the Santos home as a foster child. She was 7 and got into trouble a lot at school.
It turned out that she also came up for adoption, and though the Santos’ had only planned on adopting one child, they said they just couldn’t let go of Marelys, who was then named Elena.
“I said I was going to turn over a new leaf if she changed my name,” Marelys said. “I didn’t want to be in my old life. It was pretty hard. I just paid attention in class and not to everything else.” Marelys is now an honor student at Hanover School in Meriden and a member of the school’s safety patrol.
“I feel more protected now,” the soft-spoken 11-year-old said. “There will always be somebody to adopt you and care about you.”
The girls said they were grateful to be a part of the Santos family, and the feeling is mutual.
“They are our pride and joy,” Jose Santos said, smiling. “I’m glad they didn’t leave.”
For more information on adoption or foster care in Connecticut, go to www .ctfosteradopt.com.