There are many things I love about him, but one of my favorite times is when he’s freshly bathed and smelling like lavender. When he’s just tired enough to snuggle into my left upper arm. I get to breathe in his innocence and that oh-so-sweetness of my baby boy. I try to block out all of the uncertainty surrounding our situation, and just for that moment he is solely mine and I am his. His little chubby hand reaches up and touches my face and I soak it in and try to create a solid memory that will stick forever. I think about so many things in those tender and quick moments. I think about what his life would be like, I think about what my life would be like, and I think about how much we all love him. Then I think about the possibility of someone tearing him from my arms and handing him over to someone else, someone that he doesn’t even know. I think about how scared he would be and how he would wonder where I was and why I let them take him. That’s when my guard pops back up and anxiety takes over the moment.
I volunteered our office for both Bio-Mom and Bio-Dad visits, thinking it would be nice to get it all over with at once. Surprisingly, the agency agreed to the arrangement and every Thursday we were scheduled to meet with Bio-Dad at 9 am and Bio-Mom at 10 am. Ms. Williams would supervise both hours. I had changed my opinion of her after the first couple of visits. Her job was to transport children to and from bio-visits, supervise by taking notes and making sure everything went smooth. Although I never saw her actually take any notes, when I would ask Kena if she knew about something that happened during a visit, she always answered yes. I felt like Ms. Williams had a genuinely amazing heart and only wanted to help. She was very patient and understanding with Bio-Mom, frequently giving her advice on how to get Malachi to stop crying and letting her know when her tone was too harsh. I often heard her asking Bio-Mom how she was getting home and if she had any money. She would give her gentle reminders about what time she had to be back at the shelter and would even bring little care packages with feminine products and essentials for her. On the days Bio-Mom was late or a no-show, Ms. Williams would just shake her head and say “she’s doing the best she can.” She was a good reminder for me to keep things in perspective in regards to Bio-Mom and to never lose sight of what my original goal was with her. However, she was not as forgiving and gentle with Bio-Dad. If he was late, she would tell him that if he’s not going to be on time that she would start cutting the visits short. She would barely communicate with him at all, let alone ask him if he had bus money. I don’t know why she had absolute no empathy with him and so much for Bio-Mom. I had a few guesses, but decided it wasn’t worth taking up any of my brain space.
Right or wrong, I had a theory on Bio-Dad and I just didn’t think he was a dangerous man for me to be around. I knew from Kena that he was indeed a member of a gang. He claimed that he was trying to distance himself, but they were the only family that he had. Even though I do not, in any way, support that lifestyle, there was a piece of me that understood the draw for him. He was accepted with his gang family and that was the only life he knew. I didn’t know anything about gang mentality but I felt like if I was respectful to Bio-Dad, he would, in turn, respect me and my family. Naïve? Probably, but given my predicament, I really didn’t have many choices. When Kena asked him what his relationship was with Bio-Mom, his response was “when someone in the neighborhood has an itch, she scratches it.” So basically they take turns taking advantage of her. Maybe that was part of the reason Ms. Williams had such a distaste for him. It certainly made me feel a certain twinge of disgust when I saw him.
He did interact well with Malachi. He brought him clothing and toys to almost every visit. On one Thursday I had the baby in some red sneakers and Bio-Dad took them off right away, tucked them into the diaper bag, and the next week showed up with new blue ones. That was definitely curious to me. Did he have an aversion to the color red or did he just not like the shoes? When I would tell Bio-Dad about Malachi’s development, he did listen and respond with the appropriate emotion regarding whatever the story was, but he never did ask me questions about his care or development. Malachi rarely cried with him and would even laugh and openly go to him. Bio-Dad was always respectful of me and our office, and could carry on a normal conversation. Oddly, this eased my mind.
According to Kena, Bio-Dad answered yes when asked if he had ever done any illegal drugs. That meant bi-weekly drug tests. He had a part-time job at a trucking company and was attending his anger management and parenting classes. I still believed that if he continued to comply with all of his requirements and had negative drug tests that he would eventually gain custody. Living so close to Chicago and seeing the violence and shootings that happen almost daily made me shudder to think of my baby living in that environment.
Bio-Mom visits were far more stressful. Malachi did not like to be near her and would cry and reach for me the entire hour. It was surprising because he was such a friendly baby and would go to almost anyone. I started to video the floor so that we could get sound to show the case worker how hard he cries, but when she informed me that what I was doing was illegal I had to put the brakes on that mission. Occasionally, Bio-Mom would show for two visits in a row, but typically it was every other week. According to Kena, this was true of all of her kid’s visits. I wanted the hour to go well with Bio-Mom, but regardless of what I did or suggested or brought along to help, she would just ignore me.
Thursday visits became routine for me. I would leave the house at about 8:15 and pick up a sweetened green-tea lemonade for Tina, our office manager, a coffee for myself, and a caramel macchiato for Ms. Williams. After one particularly bad visit, I made the decision that I would delete the macchiato from that order moving forward. Ms. Williams would go thirsty. It was wrong, spiteful and quite frankly ridiculous, but Thursdays did not bring out the best in me.
It was a bright sunny day, but the chaos of the morning rush got the best of me and I was not in the right state of mind for Bio-Mom. She claimed that she didn’t have bus fare, so Ms. Williams, being the generous woman that she was, gave her money and said something like, “now this is a gift, use it wisely.” She needed it, and this sweet woman gave it to her. Why did this bother me so much? I’m not at all proud of my behavior. In fact, I’m actually embarrassed. First of all, I had just gone through an hour of watching another woman try to mother my son while failing miserably. I listened to him scream for me while she told him to stop that crying over and over again, and all I could do was sit back and let it happen. Ms. Williams would occasional call me over to calm him down, but when I handed him back to her it would start all over again. Kena told me that the agency provided Bio-Mom a bus card so I knew she didn’t need that bus money. She didn’t have a job and wouldn’t stay in the shelters that the agency would get her in to. If she couldn’t take care of herself, there was no way she was going to handle six kids. So, in that moment, I felt as if Ms. Williams was enabling her instead of letting her sink or swim. Again, I repeat, I am not proud of this behavior. But it’s honest. I wondered if I would feel the same if Bio-Mom were more receptive to my help and not so hard to communicate with. Would I be more understanding if she were loving and maternal to Malachi? I remember the visions I had before meeting her of trying to help her too, and I really did want that, but I did not think that goal was attainable anymore. It was frustrating and I was growing more resentful by the moment. I did not like that about myself.
If I am being totally honest, I was a little jealous too. Yes, I really said it, I was jealous of Bio-Mom. The woman who was struggling to keep herself together WITHOUT her kids? As much as I realized how insanely selfish and crazy that statement was, I cannot deny that it was true. Even though I was the one who had the privilege of taking care of this beautiful boy, and keep in mind that this IS what I wanted, I am the one just sitting back and waiting for someone to tell me whether I get to raise him or not. I was jealous of the fact that Bio-Mom could get him back if she tried hard enough. If she just listened and did what she was supposed to do, she would get to raise him. It didn’t matter what I did. I would still just have to wait and do with him what I was told. I was constantly reminded that she was his mother. But everything in my body and my heart told me that he was mine. I needed to remind myself once again that this is indeed what I signed up for and I was told that it would be hard. It wasn’t Bio-Mom’s fault and I needed to get a grip.
The visit went from bad to worse as it was drawing to an end and Bio-Mom approached me with a confidence that I had not witnessed before and said “Can you do me a favor?” I literally froze mid-movement. With raised brows and a curious side-tilt of my head, I responded, “Well that depends on what the favor is.” I watched her confidence disappear immediately as her head dropped down and she said “My attorney wants a letter from you stating that I have attended all of my visits.” I almost didn’t believe that those words just stumbled out of her mouth. I actually stuttered when I responded with, “But… you DON’T actually attend all of your visits.” She just stared at me like I was supposed to say something else, so after a solid five seconds, I added, “If your attorney wants any information he can call the case worker, I have nothing to do with that end of it.” Without speaking another word, she turned and walked away. It reminded me of a kindergartener who just developed the confidence to try and manipulate, but was still lacking the skills to pull it off.
We finally had a date for adjudication scheduled for August 12, 2013. Nine months and eleven days (that is 284 days total) after we brought Malachi home, and we were finally going to begin. I’m not sure what I expected to happen after you, our Judge, “accepted” our case into the system, but I was very excited about it. It meant progress. It meant we had a clock that we could start counting down. It meant that all of the behaviors of Bio-Mom and Bio-Dad would be documented and you would make them accountable as you saw fit. I looked forward to seeing you again for that court date. In case you don’t remember what happened, I’ll give you a reminder next time.
*Names have been changed