I haven’t released a letter to you in a while and I struggle to explain why. Aside from the first and last paragraphs, my accounts of everything that happened throughout our journey were written as they happened, one at a time, and I edit them for posting. The main reason I have procrastinated so long on this one is because it makes me sad. Reading my thoughts from so long ago completely exhausted me. I’m not sure if the state of the world today contributed to the melancholy I felt when I read my own words, or if I am truly embarrassed about how negative they are. I’ve had a few people question my motives in regards to publishing my story, and I hadn’t thought about it since I originally decided to journal to you, but their inquiries started to get to me. In the beginning, my goal was solely to get the weight off of my shoulders, and then it became, “if I can help just one person know that their feelings are normal in this process it would be worth it.” Then I asked myself why all of the sudden what someone else thought was affecting me so greatly. One of the lessons that is important to me to instill in my children is to always be proud of who you are. There are people in the world who will question you, or just flat out not like you for one reason or another, but as long as you are kind and confident in your actions, and doing your very best, it doesn’t matter and it’s okay. I have come to the conclusion that when I read some of these chapters back, and start to edit them, I don’t really like the person who wrote them. It’s almost as if I don’t recognize myself and the woman that I am typically proud to be. Then I get sad and put it away for another day. Having said all of that, I decided to leave the chapter alone and publish it as it was written. I believe that someone will benefit from my words, the ones I’m proud of AND the ones I am not.
The word exhausting doesn’t even come close to describing the stress I started to feel on a daily basis. The constant mental ping-pong that went between “there is no way that she could handle all six of the kids,” to “but what if they let her try,” was unbelievably draining. Henry would say “Again, I just don’t see it happening,” but Kena would say, “She’s doing everything she’s supposed to and will eventually get to see them all at once.” It was a vicious cycle that sucked me in and made me lose all logical perspective. I had cried so many times I felt as if I didn’t have tears left. I was annoyed with myself at how little control I had over my reactions and I started to feel numb to the sadness. It became a dark shadow that loomed over my head.
It was at the sibling visit where we met Sharon that I learned there were no “real” case notes from the aides who monitored the visits. She said that the only thing she turned in to our agency was a form that stated how long she was at the visit and who was in attendance. When I asked if she at least gave a verbal report, her response was, “only if they ask, which sometimes they don’t.” My mind wandered again to Ms. Williams and her supervision of Bio-Mom visits. I always found it odd that she didn’t take notes of any kind, but when I would ask Kena if she knew about an incident, she always said yes. I did not understand why no one would be documenting details and in true “Stephanie form,” I started to obsess over it. I was under the impression that if Bio-Mom attended all of her classes and got an apartment and some help, it would appear on paper that she could handle six kids. Even though that didn’t make sense, it is what it seemed. That is why the details of the visits were paramount, because they would prove that she couldn’t handle it. There was no doubt in my mind that it would be dangerous to every one of the kids. I went home after almost every visit and wrote notes, or I would type them in my phone as they took place.
Once again, I felt helpless. I was certain that no one was documenting the details of the visits and it was wrong. As I sat in my haze of uncertainty, feeling sorry for myself one afternoon, I called Henry to complain about what I had learned from Sharon. Of course he picked up the phone right away, “Public Guardian’s office, this is Henry.” I would always shutter as I pictured his face when he heard my voice, and grinned at the thought that he regretted answering the phone, maybe thinking, “Ugh, her again.” I explained that I was concerned about the lack of record-keeping and how important I felt it was that the judge heard all of the crazy details that happened at the bio-visits, and he just listened quietly. I felt like the more I talked, the more I wanted to say. I went on with example after example, “Who is documenting that Bio-Mom never asks me about his care? Is it being written down somewhere that she falls asleep and if she’s not sleeping she is playing on her phone? How about the time she left an open bottle of hair-dye in the middle of the Peekaboo room? I think the judge should know that Malachi knocked over her paper cup of hot coffee when she was not paying attention. Does anyone write down that she smells so bad that it lingers in the air after she leaves? I want him to know that I have to bathe Malachi after every visit because he smells so bad. It should be documented that she doesn’t know how to change his diaper and he inevitably ends up peeing up his shirt after her attempt. Does the judge know that she never asks about his daily routine? She didn’t even notice when he started walking, and she is very aggressive when she speaks to him.” I ended my rant with some statistics from my own records, “From August 12th through February 7th Bio-Dad had 25 visits scheduled and only showed up for 11. Bio-Mom only missed 5 visits, but she was only on time ONCE.” When I finally came up for air, Henry snickered as if he were entertained and said, “Well, that’s quite a bit of information Mrs. Davis.” My response was sharp and very confident with, “Oh, I have a lot more, would you like me to go on?” He defended the agency, stating “I’m sure there are records kept Mrs. Davis, that is their job,” but when I questioned why he didn’t KNOW that for certain, as Malachi’s attorney, he stuttered and said he would check on it. I cringe when I look back on how much I sounded like a mad-woman when I made my next revelation. It was as if an actual light bulb appeared on the top of my head. With an excited and overly-energetic urgency I said, “Wait a minute Henry, what if I submit MY notes to the judge?” Before he could even speak an objection, and without coming up for a breath, I added, “Hear me out. I understand that I am a biased witness and anything I say can be deemed as that. However, if I submit it anyway, he has no choice but to read it, right? Maybe, just maybe, it would prompt him to ask a few more questions.” There was silence on the other end of the phone and I wondered if his forehead was being propped up by his hand while he rolled his eyes, and he finally sighed, “Well Mrs. Davis, off the record, I cannot tell you to do that, and I cannot take the notes from you; however, if you really want to, you could make a formal submission to your case worker and she would have to present it.”
A couple of days later I received the following response from one of the supervisors at our private agency regarding the visits being documented:
There definitely was miscommunication regarding the matter of case notes. All of our case aides document visits accordingly. Your case worker can assist with the details.
I never heard from anyone else regarding the matter. I did, however, email all ten pages of my case notes to Kena to be submitted for court.
Henry told us that the next court date was scheduled for February 10, 2014 and I knew it would be a “status” hearing. The agency would present their recommended goal; either “return to home” or “terminate parental rights (TPR),” and then submit their documentation regarding the status of the goal. Then the judge would make his comments and set another court date. I knew that the February court date was too soon to shoot for a TPR trial so I wasn’t really affected when I found out it was cancelled due to some scheduling conflicts. After a few more cancellations, there were literally only two court dates that actually transpired in 2014 and both were continued with the goal of “return to home,” because there was not enough documentation to change the goal to terminate yet. When I asked Kena about the goal not being changed, she was always guarded with her response citing, “Bio-Mom is doing enough to continue her efforts to gain custody, and I cannot say what the judge will ultimately rule, every case is different.” Henry’s answer was always the same, “Listen, I just don’t see this case ever ending with Bio-Mom getting custody, but she is owed a chance to prove herself,” blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.
When I approached the topic of my notes being submitted to the judge, Kena said that he did accept them and thanked me for my input, but if I wanted to submit any more case notes, I would have to include an original signature instead of an emailed copy. I’ll never know if he actually read them or what his thoughts were, but I did feel triumphant that it was actually on the record.
“Marco and Ms. Persons”
At that time, I had only met Ms. Persons face-to-face two times, but we did speak on the phone at least once every couple of months. I was the squeaky wheel to our agency and attorney, so Ms. Persons would call me when she had something to complain about to see if it was something I already had the scoop on. I was always happy to fill her in.
Ms. Persons had a growl to her voice when she was calm, but when she was angry that growl was deeper and accompanied by several smacks of her lips. When she was really heated, there was no time for pleasantries, the moment I answered the phone she would start with a moan and a smack, “ooh, girl, I don’t even know what to say I’m so angry. I’m so tired of these people in my house and calling my phone all of the time.” One particular Friday afternoon when she began her sentence that way after I picked up the phone, she continued her rant with, “I can’t even believe this is still going on, what is wrong with these people?” She never really understood or grasped the whole “make-up visits” thing. Regardless of how many times I explained it to her, she still refused to get that it was a rule. She called upset because she had to make up three of Bio-Mom’s visits in one week because she hadn’t been showing up. “I mean what do they expect from us? This is a huge inconvenience. I work full time and the girls have school every day and they want me to squeeze in three visits in one week?” No, “mm, mm mm, mm” that is just not right. Angela always comes home upset after her visits, ‘mm, mm mm’ and then I have to calm her down every time.” She was insistent that she was told there would be no make-up visit if it was Bio-Mom’s fault. I explained to her once again that the agency cannot bill the state of Illinois for the visits if they didn’t happen; therefore, they will do whatever they can to reschedule, regardless of whom it inconveniences. Her response was always the same snarl, “Well, that’s not fair.” All I could do was agree.
The angriest I ever heard her was when she called to complain about Marco. I could barely understand her when I picked up my end of the phone and had to ask her to repeat herself several times. She went on to tell me that the girls had to make up two visits in one week and Kena had told her that Marco (Edward and Justin’s foster father), would be transporting them for the agency. The fact that this was not her main complaint was baffling to me, but she had more to say. Ms. Persons was always very adamant that no one know where she lived. She was a single woman on the south side of Chicago with three girls and was not comfortable with people knowing where she lived, which was one of the reasons she never hosted the sibling visits. Marco had picked up the girls on a Saturday morning at 10 am and when they were dropped off, they burst through the front door screaming that their mom was in the car. When Ms. Persons opened the door to look for Marco, he was running to his car that was parked in front of the neighbor’s house. Bio-Mom was sitting in the passenger seat. She did not give me an opportunity to speak and went on a rant that changed topic as quickly as a blink.
“We are on our ninth case aide. That’s nine people that know where I live, and now this man is going to bring Bio-Mom here to my house? ‘Growl, growl, mm mm mm’ How am I supposed to teach these girls not to trust strangers when they have just anybody come here and expect me to release them every time? I knew it all along. I knew that Marco and Bio-Mom had some sort of thing together. I think they might even be sleeping together and this is all some sort of plan that they had. Nobody will listen when I talk about it. Now Bio-Mom knows where I live. SHE KNOWS WHERE I LIVE, STEPHANIE. I have all of these meetings at school and nobody will get me the help they need outside of school. All anyone is concerned about are these Bio-Mom visits. Stephanie, I know a lot of people would take these girls and mistreat them, and they don’t deserve that. I don’t want them taken away from me. These are my girls. I am just so done with all of this.”
When I was certain she got everything off of her chest, I calmly said “Ms. Persons, those girls are so blessed to have you in their lives, and believe me, I completely understand how frustrating it is. We just have to wait it out and move forward, it is our only option.” I asked her if she could be mistaken about Bio-Mom being in the car and her responsive growl back was coupled with some defensiveness when she said “Mm, MMMM, girl, there is no way I am wrong. Why didn’t he pull into my driveway? There were no other cars there. Why didn’t he come to the door, and why was he running back to his car? No, there is no way I am mistaken. I saw her and my girls told me.” I didn’t have the energy to dispute her claim, but I did not believe that Bio-Mom and Marco were romantically involved. I was, however, grateful that I wasn’t the only one who let this process make me a little paranoid. The only thing I could do was listen to Ms. Persons and advise her to talk with Kena. She would always listen to what I had to say regarding what I knew about the case from Henry, but my words of encouragement were met with a dismissive growl.
If Kena could not make it to my house for her monthly home visit, she would supervise one of Bio-Mom’s visits with Malachi, arrive early to talk with me and mark it down as a home visit. We were in the Peekaboo Room waiting for Bio-Mom and discussing the details of the case when she casually said to me, “I have the best foster parents, Marco volunteered to drive the girls to their visits next week, wasn’t that so nice of him?” I was careful not to start spewing my negativity about Marco and instead chose not to say a word. Then she mentioned that her supervisor thinks it might be a good idea to extend Malachi’s visits with Bio-Mom to two hours to give them a better chance to bond. I had to remind myself to breathe and not to speak until I was calm. When my silence was too much for her to bare she slumped her shoulders down and stared at me with pleading eyes and said, “Mrs. Davis, please don’t do this to me. You know my hands are tied regarding these visits. Do you think that one hour a week is enough for a mother to bond with her child?” I knew I had to respond but did not want to. I picked Malachi up and started playing with him as I spoke because I knew that I would be calmer with him in my arms, and without looking at her I said, “I just don’t understand why you can’t tell the judge exactly what happens when she’s here. She will not try to bond with him, that’s why it’s not happening. You have the parenting coach’s expertise confirming that. She will not try, it’s not about how long she spends with him.” Since I was able to communicate without my body trembling, I decided to take it one step further and stared her straight in the eyes and added, “Listen Kena, please don’t be offended but I do not ever want Marco transporting or supervising any of Malachi’s visits.” She looked puzzled and said, “Could you elaborate?” I hesitated and put Malachi down and without any change in my demeanor or tone simply said, “I would prefer not to.” What I wanted to say was “Seriously Kena, you are a smart woman. Have you ever even spoken to the man? He is obviously not all there,” but thankfully I was able to control myself. I was saved by the bell as her phone rang and she excused herself to answer it.
When she returned she only said “You are such a natural nurturer Mrs. Davis.” I wasn’t sure how to respond to her compliment. Was it even a compliment? It didn’t matter. Instead of responding, I asked how Bio-Mom was doing on all of her requirements. My heart sank again when she informed me that she had finished all of her classes. This meant that she currently only had counseling and the weekly visits with her children as services. I reminded her that on our last home visit she told me that the domestic violence counselor stated that “she would likely never put her children before a man.” Kena could only shrug her shoulder and say, “well, she marked the requirement as complete and released her.” She went on to tell me that she is working on scheduling a visit with Bio-Mom, all six children, and a psychiatrist to witness how she does with all of them together, and she would be in touch with me regarding a date. I literally felt so depleted that I didn’t want to hear any more. I switched gears and asked how Bio-Dad was doing. I knew he had been released from jail but hadn’t heard when or if visits were going to start up again. Kena said that she was also working with his attorney to schedule visits because Bio-Dad would not return any of her calls.
Bio-Mom was 45 minutes late at that point and I asked if we could call it quits, but she said that we had to wait the entire hour, and when I looked at her with my mouth open about to speak, she interrupted me with, “yes, Mrs. Davis, it’s a money thing.” Ten minutes later when the hour was almost up she said we could start to put Malachi’s shoes on, and as we approached the hanging cubbies in the front of the big open room, Bio-Mom sauntered in, tripping through the door with all of the bags she was carrying. Malachi immediately started clinging to me and crying. Kena whispered to me that this would be enough to charge the hour and to just continue putting his shoes on. Bio-Mom tried to take him from my arms, but his protests got stronger and louder. She glared at Kena and said “See, this is what happens. He doesn’t want me.” She kissed the back of his head and walked out the door with Kena chasing after her. I drove home feeling beat down and helpless. I tried to cry to release some of the tension, but I couldn’t muster up one tear. I wondered if I would feel differently if Bio-Mom was actually fit to take care of him. Then I asked myself if I would have thought anyone were fit to take care of him.
We are the ones taking care of Malachi. Loving him was the easy part, providing for him was my privilege, but why was it that we had no say in what was in his best interest? I will never understand why that doesn’t matter. It’s such a confusing and blurry line. There has got to be a better way. Next time I’ll tell you about Bio-Dad and the “man-hunt” that ensued.