Silence has never felt as good as it did after our first sibling visit was over. I sat on the couch with a sleeping Malachi nestled on my chest. It was so loud in my house the preceding hours that there was a constant buzz in my ears. If I wasn’t already exhausted enough, the activities of the day pushed me over the edge and very few things in this world could have forced me to move my body at that moment. It felt as if my insides were made of wet sand and I just formed into the shape of the furniture I was occupying. My thoughts are solely on Bio-Mom and how in the world she would be able to handle what three adults and a teenager had a hard time managing today. I remember the binder and how her house was found in disarray and I can see, as a person without any diagnosed mental illness, how difficult it would be to deal with all six of these children and have time to do anything other than “put out fires.” I automatically assumed that after today, you as our Judge, would have a full report of how hard these particular kids are to supervise when they are together. Couple that with the documentation of how poorly Bio-Mom handles Malachi alone, and you would have no choice but to declare it catastrophic to return them back to a woman with so many challenges already. I was entirely too drained to feel happy about my new-found revelation and I was definitely too weak to feel pity on Bio-Mom right now. The only thing I felt was depleted.
I have put a lot of thought into how to explain our current familial situation to Malachi as he grows. My parenting style with my girls has always been honesty first, even when it’s a difficult subject. The hard part is determining how much their growing-brains can truly comprehend without adding unnecessary stress and confusion, and then working around that. Daryl and I decided that, for now, we would just call it like it was and see how it evolved. He would know that he has four sisters including Ravyn and Taryn and three brothers, and we would address evolving questions as they presented. If we don’t make it a big deal then it’s not a big deal, right? I want Malachi to always know who his siblings are and to be completely comfortable and confident with what is our normal.
The first sibling visit was scheduled at my house. It had to be four hours long and would be a Christmas party. I knew that Nina was going to escort the four oldest children and Jay would be transported by his foster-mother Cheryl. I planned on ordering pizza and playing games but had no idea what to expect, as four hours is a long time. None of the kids had ever lived with Malachi so there was no bond there, but when I learned from Nina that the children had not seen each other in two months I felt sad and excited to witness their reunion. Ravyn and Taryn would be there to help and Cheryl would be bringing her daughter Josie, who was the same age as Jay.
Nina arrived first with the oldest kids and courtesy of the binder, I was able to greet them all by name as they walked through the door. They were all beautiful children and appeared cared for and friendly, hugging me as I said hello. Edward and Justin were dressed in matching outfits including their coats and hats and were fairly quiet as they handed their coats to Ravyn after my welcome. Tameka was dressed in all pink down to the barrettes that held her freshly braided hair in place. She busted through the door with excitement looking and asking for her mom. Nina quickly corrected her and said “you’ll see your mom later today Tameka.” She explained to me that there was a scheduled visit at Bio-Mom’s apartment later in the day for the oldest four. Angela is the oldest and I knew that she had autism so I hesitated to go in for the hug not knowing if she would be responsive to that kind of gesture. But she surprised me with the biggest embrace of all and a very enthusiastic “I love you.” After dropping her coat right where she took it off, she sashayed into the living room belting out a Beyonce song while waving one hand in the air with the other one on her tilted hip like she was accepting a standing ovation at Chicago Theatre. It was clear to me right away that there was more than autism going on with Angela, but she made me smile and melted my heart… and later stole my daughter’s iPod.
I tried to gain control from the beginning by introducing them to their little brother but the chaos was instant. They all four spoke at the same time with high-pitched excitement. Without breaking stride, one or more of them would be asking multiple questions at once, “Do we get a present today?” “Is there food?” “What are we going to eat?” “Do you have dolls?” “Can we turn the TV on?”
Malachi loved it. He thrived on noise and the louder it was, the more calm he was. I put him in his swing and for the first time in almost two months, he just laid there quietly with wide eyes taking in his surroundings. None of the kids were interested in him and Angela was actually afraid of him. She would start to inch toward the swing and when she got about three feet away she would retreat with a scream, “he’s looking at me.” When we took a family picture we had to position her away from him.
The one thing all of them were consistent and loud about was where Jay was. They could not wait for their little brother to arrive. Justin was the most excited to see him and literally paced in front of the window and with every car that drove by he would screech “he’s here.” He arrived about a half hour later and everyone except Angela met him at the door, nearly knocking him down with their hugs and greeting squeals. My favorite memory of the day was Tameka repeating, “these are my brudders, these are my brudders” as she grinned from ear to ear. Jay looked like a different child than the one we saw in the shelter. His hair was cut clean and he had clothes on. It made him look so much older. He looked happier too, he had a glow about him. Josie is his foster-sister’s name and she was just as cute as he was with her little pony tails and jeans on. They both looked too tiny and frail to be walking but they entered my home in sync looking like a baby gap commercial. Jay was apprehensive with all of the attention and when Cheryl had to rush back to the car for the diaper bag he stood at the door crying until she got back.
The pizza arrived shortly after the kids were all there and while Nina and Cheryl settled who was sitting where, Ravyn and I placed pizza on plates to deliver to each child. The noise level seemed to go up and the pandemonium continued with everyone talking at once. Just when one request was granted another one was being demanded, “I want another one,” “I don’t like apple juice,” “Jacob just said something mean to me,” “I want to sit by Jay,” and “can I have one of those cookies?” The frenzy of activity was a lot to soak in.
We live in a split level home with an open layout on the first level with the kitchen, dining room, living room and foyer area forming a circle around a center wall. There are stairs going up to bedrooms and bathrooms and stairs going down to family room and bathroom. I was thankful for the first time that I did not have a big house because Angela kept disappearing and we didn’t have to look far to find her. She was very stealth with her sneaking off and we found her each time either downstairs trying to turn the television on to watch “Chuckie the doll” or in Ravyn’s room putting music on the iPod. I would gently remind her that she was there to see her brothers and we needed to go back to the party. Each time she met me with a sigh of disapproval followed by a loud “hmph,” and then she would follow me back to the main level.
Cheryl and I had a chance to finally talk when Nina and Ravyn engaged the kids in a game and some presents. I knew right away that we were going to get along well. She is one of those people who you can’t help but feel comfortable around because of her confidence, her honesty and her laugh. She has the greatest laugh. Cheryl works out of the house full-time so Jay is picked up by an agency aid for Bio-Mom visits. They take him from day care and back so she doesn’t know anything that goes on in those hours. The aid idea was appealing to me for about 2.5 seconds. I would rather deal with the torture of watching Bio-Mom fumble with my son than deal with the misery of what my control-freak mind would make up. When Cheryl and her husband were called to take the placement for Jay she was told a completely different story than I was. They asked her to take both boys just like they requested of us, but they told her that the baby DID have drugs in his system. They also told her that the kids would be up for adoption right away, that Bio-Mom’s rights would be terminated as soon as possible. She did not start out on this journey to be a “foster parent.” She wanted only to adopt so this was the first placement she said yes to in four years. These kids are clearly not up for adoption yet and would not be for some time. Cheryl was not happy about this at all. She was lied to from the beginning and did not trust anything that anyone told her.
The kids got along for the most part, minus a few arguments here and there. Edward was fairly quiet but spoke up when he needed to. Justin was loud and very emotional, he cried more than the rest of them combined, and he never sat still. Tameka just turned five-years-old in October but did not know her colors, numbers or letters yet. She was so sweet and would call all three of the adults in the room “mom” when she needed something. We would correct her with our names every time, but she just ignored us and kept on. There was a clear disconnect between Angela and the rest of the children. After her original excitement to see Jay, she didn’t interact with any of them. She only wanted to sing loudly, listen to Ravyn’s iPod and color. She also loved to eat. Every time I looked at her she had some sort of food in her mouth and if we told her “no, that’s enough,” she would wait until we weren’t looking and sneak something else. She was in my cabinets and refrigerator and at one point ate someone’s pizza crust off of their plate. None of the children paid any attention to Malachi. I tried to explain that this was the baby that was in their mom’s tummy but they just didn’t get it or they didn’t care. They couldn’t miss him because they’ve never been around him.
The four-hour visit ended one hour early because it was just too long for that many people in my little house. Before she left Cheryl handed me a picture of Malachi and asked if I knew where it came from. The glossy picture was obviously torn out of the Shutterfly book I made for Bio-Mom. It was a picture of my son in our office during the first visit with her. She gave it to 18-month-old Jay as a gift. I wasn’t sure how I felt about this. My knee-jerk reaction was to be angry because I gave her that book as a gift. After taking a breath I wondered if, in her juvenile mind, Bio-Mom was attempting to keep the boys together with the gesture. Cheryl and I exchanged phone numbers so that we could continue to commiserate on what is happening with our case and our boys.
When everyone was gone and I sat on the couch to compose myself Ravyn came down the stairs with a distressed look and told me that Angela stole her iPod. Of course immediately I assumed she had just misplaced it and lectured her on blaming someone else, but she was certain. She said that the few times Angela was in her room she kept touching it and then she would look around to see if Ravyn was paying attention. After helping her look for a few minutes I decided to contact Nina before she dropped the girls off. I was hopeful that she would answer her phone but not expecting it because she never does. She surprised me when she picked up on the second ring. I explained to her our concern and since she hadn’t dropped the girls off yet she immediately asked her, “Angela, did you take an iPod out of Ravyn’s room?” Angela responded with a confident “yes, I did.” Nina promised to take it from her and get it to me at our next home visit.
After my excellent detective skills helped me locate Malachi’s appointed attorney, I was pleasantly surprised when he actually picked up the phone with “Public Guardian’s office, this is Henry.” The first time I called him was to just to touch base. I was lucky enough to be introduced to a few foster moms who had great advice for me and each of them said that I need to form a relationship with the GAL (Guardian ad Litem). The agency is there to facilitate visits, services and monitoring; but their primary goal is to prove to the Judge that they are doing everything they can to reunite the family. The GAL is there to advocate for the kids and their primary objective is in the child’s best interest.
Henry was almost robotic and very formal when he spoke. His tone was dry and never changed. I felt as if he were reading a cue card a lot of the time. Almost directly after my introduction he went on to explain the process, “well Mrs. Davis what will happen is there will be a trial date for adjudication and that is when the clock starts ticking and Bio-Mom will have 9 months, blah, blah, blah.” I actually already knew all of the process and even though I appreciated the sentiment behind his explanation it was annoying and hard to sit through. I felt like I was back in school with the most boring teacher there. After he explained to me why I should not supervise the visits he said he would put a call in to the case worker to make sure they provided a proper aid for the job. Before we hung up the phone he added that someone from his office would be contacting each foster family to set up a home visit to meet the children and go over the case.
With my new-found revelation that there is no way on earth that anyone in their right mind would grant Bio-Mom custody, I started to exhale and relax a little. I decided I would be patient and wait for our adjudication trial and then start counting down the nine months until we could change the goal. Oh how naïve I was back then.
Next time I will tell you about how I, Malachi’s mother, listened to my intuition and how important it was. Biology didn’t matter, my baby needed me and I knew it, despite what any expert had to say.
*Names have been changed