Chapter 18 – Visits Winter 2013-14

Dear Judge,

Have you ever walked away from a situation wishing you had responded differently? Or come up with a great response to an ignorant comment two hours too late? In retrospect, as I edit these letters to you, sometimes four full years after I wrote them, I see how blind I was a lot of the time. I remember how hard it was going through each situation or circumstance, and I can still see my point and validate it. However, now I can see the other side of the coin a lot clearer. Even now, I am still learning from the chaos that was my life for so long. The jury is still out on whether that is a good thing or a bad thing.

“Bio-Mom Visits”

When the agency finally pushed hard enough that we had no choice but to remove me from the Bio-Mom visits, I came up with a solution that would help both Malachi and me in the transition. Next door to our chiropractic office was an open-space concept play room called “The Peekaboo Room” where toddlers could take their shoes off and run and play. I offered to pay for the room for Bio-Mom to visit with Malachi every week. Surprisingly, Kena agreed to my proposal without hesitation. So, I was able to maintain some level of control with driving him to and from the visits, and I would be right next door if something went wrong.

I visited The Peekaboo Room with Malachi a couple of times before the first visit so that he was familiar with his surroundings. I introduced myself to Rachel, the woman who ran the front desk, and explained the basics of our unique situation. He loved it there; it was right up his alley… loud and bright and full of noise. Toward the front of the room there were a couple of couches for parents, but the remainder of the big, bright space was all for the little ones. The room was open with a few enclaves for a play kitchen, a doll room complete with cribs, high chairs and swings, and one that housed a toy lawn mower, vacuum and some other “wheeled” activities. Malachi’s favorite spot was off to the far left corner where there was a yellow, red and blue little tyke bus slide. He would go up under the steering column of the “bus” part and down the blue slide over and over again. It kept him so busy that we bought him one for Christmas, but at home it turned into something he used as a catalyst to climb other things!

I was surprisingly calm when the day came for the first visit without me. Ms. Williams signed Malachi in while I paid the fee, we took his shoes and coat off, and I snuck out of the front door before he had even reached the slide, or before Bio-Mom arrived. It wasn’t even 15 minutes later when my phone started buzzing with Ms. Williams name across the screen. I couldn’t even hear what she was saying over the screaming voice in the background that I knew was my son. I had reached the front door of The Peekaboo Room before I hung up the phone, and the only thing I knew from the brief conversation was that he was not hurt. Malachi was standing next to the slide in full-on hysterics. He wouldn’t let anyone touch him, including me for a minute. I squatted down to his level and calmly said his name over and over again until he could recognize my voice and focus enough to see that I was there. When his eyes caught mine, his chubby little arms reached out and found me with such force that I fell to the floor. He was shaking and wet from sweat. He sobbed with his face buried into my neck while trying to calm his breaths with big heavy gulps of air for at least two minutes, and when he finally slowed down enough that the gulps were decreasing in intensity, he still held on for dear life. His grip did not loosen for a couple more minutes. I don’t know how I didn’t cry, but I held it together and stayed calm for my baby. There were approximately a dozen other mothers there with their toddlers and I could see them trying to focus, not only their attention, but that of their children, in another direction. Of course my primary interest was Malachi, but Bio-Mom stood in the background looking hurt and angry. Her 5’5,” 140 lb. frame was wearing a very worn, black and red flannel shirt that was probably a size 2X, with several layers underneath that. She had blond hair extensions in that looked like they hadn’t been combed in weeks, and they were laying long over her left shoulder with a black stocking cap snug on the top of her head. She was holding a little toy broom and dustpan in her hands when she threw her arms up in the air, and in an extremely flustered and condescending tone said, “Well, there she is, there she is. I hope you’re happy now, there’s your mama.” I felt bad for her, but felt worse for my baby boy. I just could not figure out what it was about her that he could not get past. He was such a friendly baby and would usually go to anyone with ease. I had never seen him have an aversion to anyone but her. It took ten minutes for him to calm down enough to be able to sit on my lap breathing normally. I didn’t know what to do, but I knew that I was not going to leave him again that day. I also knew that removing him from the situation was not the answer either. I asked Bio-Mom to sit down next to us and grabbed some blocks. I started to place them on top of each other and encouraged Malachi and Bio-Mom to help me. Just when the tension was starting to ease, and we were all starting to breathe normally again, Bio-Mom decided that she was going to try to move him from my lap to hers. Her arms started to reach across the small area of carpet between us, and she said in her non-gentle voice, “Okay, come on now.” Knowing that it wasn’t a good idea and not wanting to create more tension at the same time, I playfully said “Maybe not yet.” At that point she declared, “I got this,” and went straight for him anyway. I was not going to make a scene and play tug-of-war with Malachi, and since my only other option was to go with it, I acted as if it was no big deal, hoping that he would be open to going to her. He wasn’t. Thankfully, Ms. Williams stepped in right away when it was evident that he was heading toward another panic attack. She said, “Okay, that’s enough for today.” They were already out the door before I could get Malachi’s shoes and coat on, so I was able to ask Rachel at the front desk what happened. She said that as soon as Bio-Mom walked in Malachi started pacing and looking for me, and when she approached him, he started crying. She picked him up anyway and he started to scream. It continued to escalate the more they tried to calm him and that is when Ms. Williams called me.

The following day I received a call from a parenting coach named Laura. She was already coaching Bio-Mom with the four older children and was going to start coming to the visits at The Peekaboo Room. She asked me a few questions about the visits so far and I filled her in on Malachi’s aversion to his biological mother. I told her about the fact that she doesn’t put any effort in to bonding with him and gave her several examples.

The following Thursday, Ms. Williams and Laura came early to get her acquainted with Malachi before Bio-Mom showed up. He instantly took to her and we played all together for 15 minutes before she asked me to tell him good-bye and head next door. I knelt down and kissed him on the forehead and walked out with no problem. He just kept on playing. It was like déjà vu from the previous week when fifteen minutes later my cell phone buzzed with Ms. Williams name again. My heart sank as I ran next door and calmed my son down again. Bio-Mom looked the exact same as she did on the last visit, down to her flannel and stocking cap. She was calmer this week and had a blank stare on her face. She did not mutter a word. Laura had us build the blocks again after Malachi calmed down. Only this time she was literally telling Bio-Mom what to do, “take your hand and reach over to gently touch his leg,” she instructed. Indeed, Bio-Mom would reach across and touch his leg. Then Laura said “Ok, now rub it gently and say ‘Are you having fun?’” But when she went to follow through with the step it was like she was some bad actor in a really uncomfortable scene. There was absolutely no ease with her actions and she was quickly forced to retract when Malachi moved his leg away. She sat there for the next 20 minutes and watched while I played with our son and Laura made small suggestions to get her to engage. She asked me to include Bio-Mom and show Malachi that it was okay. He did play the remainder of the hour, but did not stray far from me. Bio-Mom left first that day and I was able to have a conversation with Ms. Williams and Laura. Laura did not believe that Bio-Mom was going to be able to bond with Malachi without my help. She said that I would have to be in attendance at the weekly appointments. She confided in me that she was disappointed in Bio-Mom’s progression with the older kids and said that sometimes she just didn’t show up. The conversation turned personal when Ms. Williams said “we were talking and think it’s so sad that you guys remind us of the movie ‘Losing Isaiah.’” I had seen that heart-wrenching movie and did not appreciate the comparison. Since Malachi came into our lives, the thought of that movie made me nauseous.

That was the last time I saw Laura. Kena said that they canceled her services. My protests fell on deaf ears. I reminded her of what Laura said about me needing to be there if Bio-Mom was ever going to bond with Malachi and she said “I’m sorry, it’s just not good for the case.” I got the same response from her supervisor and from Henry. Bio-Mom missed the next four weeks of visits due to illness. That’s all I was told.

“Bio-Dad”

The first visit downtown at the courthouse with Bio-Dad was a rough one for me. I knew that Malachi would be fine with Ms. Williams and Bio-Dad, as he typically did well with them. But I did not like the fact that someone else was driving him into the city, and I didn’t like that I had no idea where to picture him in my mind. I had Ms. Williams pick up Malachi from the office so that we could be closer to downtown and I could stay busy with work. He let me buckle him into her car without fuss and they drove away. The two hours that they were gone were filled with some angst, but I did get a lot done. When Ms. Williams walked through the front door with my son on her hip, I let out a big sigh and hugged him tight. He was smiling and babbling and happy. Ms. Williams said it went well and he spent the entire hour at a small train table in the Green Room and had a pretty good meltdown when they had to pull him away from it.

After that first visit at the courthouse, Bio-Dad did not show up for a couple of weeks. I found out later that he had been arrested and subsequently incarcerated for a period of time to be determined. The agency was limited in what they would tell me, and all I got out of Henry was that it was for assault. I asked Henry if Malachi would have to attend visits at the prison and he said it was up to the individual case worker and agency to decide that. Of course I went straight into pleading for him to step in and help me so that we wouldn’t have to subject him to prison visits, but he said that we should wait and see what the agency decided before making any assumptions. Luckily, when Kena and her supervisor discussed it, they decided against prison visits for Malachi, but not before letting me stress about it for three weeks.

“December 2013 Sibling Visit”

I woke up to Malachi vomiting at 4:00 am the morning of the sibling visit. I knew I should cancel but then we would have to coordinate our schedules again to reschedule, and that was always a painful process. He didn’t have a fever, so I decided to move forward.

The visit was scheduled to start at noon and I felt like things were looking upward when Malachi fell asleep for an early nap at 10:30 am. Even though it was futile to clean up my house in preparation for four hours with eight adults and nine kids, I still felt the need to start with a clean slate. It was 11:00 am and I was sweeping the kitchen floor when Tim, the aid who transported Justin and Edward, called to say that he, the boys and Marco were sitting outside and wanted to see if they could come in an hour early. After a very long pause on my end and with a heavy sigh I answered, “I guess. But you’re going to have to keep it down because Malachi is napping.” I wish I was the type of person who could have said “No, it’s not okay, come back in an hour.” But I’m not. So instead, I used passive-aggressive behavior, which usually works out for everyone… said no one ever. Marco had driven himself to my house before, and he knew how small it was, so I was confused why he had Tim drive them for the second month in a row.

I hung up the phone and approached the front door to see Marco towering over Tim, Justin and Edward with a very small pink hat with a large pom-pom on the top. The four of them came in and sat down in the living room while I continued to prep for the impending storm. The phone rang about ten minutes later and it was Sharon, the new aid transporting Angela and Tameka. Thankfully, she was not coming early, but was just confirming the address. Unfortunately, it woke up Malachi.

The girls arrived promptly at noon and we were off and running. Sharon was a very gentle and sweet woman who was really good with special needs children, so she was chosen specifically for our visits and Angela. Cheryl, Darrin, Josie and Jay came next and the visit was underway.

Since it was cold and rainy outside I tried to organize the day with snack, a craft, food, a game and then a movie. I printed off pictures of each child and pulled out all of my scrapbooking stuff so that we could make a Christmas card. Easy, right? Not so much.

The noise level was insanely high right out of the gate and I had no control over anyone. Angela and Tameka were having a particularly hard time getting along that day and we had to separate them repeatedly. Every time Angela would have an outburst about someone screaming or “bothering her,” or when she would open my refrigerator or cabinet to look for food, I would remind myself that this environment is hard for me, and I didn’t have autism. It had to be torture for her.

It was only 12:30, thirty minutes into the visit, and Jacob had cried at least twice, Angela didn’t want anyone even looking at her, Malachi was whining and crying pretty much all of the time, and Tameka was like a broken record with “Excuse me mom, excuse me mom, excuse me mom,” and when one of us would say “yes, Tameka,” she would forget what she had to say.

When I finally got everyone to the table to make their Christmas card, my instructions were simple, make one card for someone special and use anything you see on the table. Be creative. I had several red solo cups on the table filled with markers, glue sticks, colored pencils, stickers, and other fun scrapbooking stuff. Every child at the table chose to make their card for their foster parent.

The day before the visit, Daryl had glued the arm together on an old antique rocking chair that we recently had reupholstered. Because it wasn’t dry I wrapped the chair in a long, thick neon orange moving strap that we had in the garage, and I put a piece of paper on the back that said “broken,” and then I placed it in the corner of the living room behind the couch. Cheryl, Sharon and I were standing behind the kids at the table helping when needed, and I looked up to see that Marco had finally moved from his chair in the living room, pulled the rocking chair up to the table and sat on it. I was so confused, and I’m sure didn’t come across very friendly when I said “Um, Marco, that chair is broken. Thus, the reason for the neon orange rope and note that says ‘broken.’” He didn’t stand up right away, but instead, slowly looked down to the left and then to the right, looked up at me and said “oh.” When he still didn’t get up, I added “So… you might want to choose another seat or stand?” He said “ok,” stood up and went to stand behind Justin and Edward.

I could feel myself focusing on the chaos, the noise, and the insanity of the moment and had to take a few deep, cleansing breaths. Angela was really enjoying the craft but wanted to use some scissors. I didn’t have any child-safe scissors, so I let her use “adult” ones with my help. It took all of my patience and energy to focus on the task at hand, but in the background I heard Marco’s faint whisper, plus an added lisp that I had not noticed before, “Stephanie… Stephanie… Hey Stephanie… Stephanie.” I slowly lifted my head to look up at him with contempt in my eyes, and he whispered in his soft, almost ridiculously melodic voice, “Justin needs a glue stick.” I felt my heart rate increase, sweat start to form throughout my body, my ears got hot, and the walls start to close in from that simple little request and I felt like I was going to blow. But instead, through gritted teeth and an added growling element to my tone, I answered, “Marco, there are about a dozen glue sticks on the table directly in front of you. So why don’t you just reach your arm out and grab one for him, yeah?” I don’t remember who made the recommendation, but someone mentioned that I might need to take a break. I decided to heed the advice and take a time-out in my bathroom.

When I rejoined the group, feeling like a child, things had calmed down. While Marco and Tim supervised a viewing of “Monsters, Inc.,” Cheryl and I filled Sharon in on the ins and outs of our case. We told her how it took 18 months from the time the kids were removed from Bio-Mom to even have adjudication. We vented about how the information we get contradicts other information, how the visits rotate around Bio-Mom and her schedule, and how we were constantly inconvenienced to make sure all of the requirements were met. Sharon had been a case aid for 20 years and she was shocked that Angela, Tameka and Justin did not have any services in place. All four of the older kids could use some therapy. Justin’s emotional outbursts could be part of something bigger, and Angela and Tameka are both on the spectrum and should be getting some sort of occupational therapy, amongst other things. She asked if we were paid for having the visits in our homes and when we told her that we submitted for reimbursement but were denied, she scolded us for not pushing harder and insisted that we should be compensated. When Cheryl and I explained to her that we believed the agency was only driven by money, she confirmed that we were likely right. Agencies can’t run without funding and a family of six kids equals a lot of money.

When Angela appeared in the kitchen looking for food, we peeked into the living room to find that the only two watching the Disney movie were Tim and Marco. Tameka was playing with clay on my couch, the boys had Lego’s everywhere, and Jay and Joy had disappeared downstairs where Daryl was watching the football game with Malachi and Darren. Angela opened the refrigerator again and when I told her to shut it she started chanting, “Why is she on my brain so much, why is she on my brain so much?” Then she went for the butcher block of knives on the counter, but luckily Sharon was able to stop her in time. The familiar overwhelmed feeling started to creep back into my body and I snapped out, “okay, it’s time for everyone to go. I’m calling this one. Let’s go,” and I waved my arms in an aggressive motion toward the door.

“Next Time”

So, in retrospect, I can see how I contributed to some of the chaos that surrounded our lives. For one, instead of acting like another child at the sibling visit, I could have stepped up my game and held it together and I wish I had.

Likely, Malachi felt the tension that was between Bio-Mom and me, though I really did try to act normal when we were together. The fact of the matter was there was nothing normal about it. Not only did I completely fail Bio-Mom, I missed the point of why I should not have been at the visits from the very beginning. I let my fear take charge for so long that I had, indeed, significantly affected the bonding between Malachi and his biological mother. I do regret that. Their bonding and her gaining custody were two different things and I am ashamed that I didn’t see that until it was too late. But of course, hindsight is 20/20.

Bio-Dad is a different story altogether. I’ll tell you more about that next time.

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*Names have been changed

Chaper 17 – Happy First Birthday

Dear Judge,

I don’t know if it’s how I was born or the result of my life’s journey, but I am always preparing for the worst case scenario so I can be fully ready for anything that comes my way. There are many issues that accompany that characteristic, but one of the biggest is the anxiety and worry that something is going to go wrong at any time. So, when I start obsessing over something, I have to remember this trait, and balance what I think “might” be happening with what could be a non-issue. Not the greatest quality for a foster parent. When Malachi started exhibiting behaviors that were foreign to me, it was hard for me to accept that it was “normal” for a boy to behave that way. However, it could be the case, right?

“One-year developmental appointment”

I would get notices every quarter from the Department of Children and Family Services that there was a scheduled “case review.” Basically, this appointment was a “check-up” for our private agency. The case worker would bring absolutely every shred of documentation she had on the case and prove that they were doing everything they were supposed to do regarding Malachi and his siblings. Foster parents were always invited, but the case worker encouraged us not to attend, because with a case involving six children it could run up to four hours, and it was really boring information. Ms. Persons went to the first one because she was unhappy that Angela and Tameka had to spend so much time at a dirty McDonald’s with Bio-Mom’s visits. She said it was a waste of a day off. They did recognize her concern and said the visits would be moved to a new location, but they never were. As soon as I got that notice in the mail I knew the barrage of phone calls would start coming in from our case worker asking for shot records, doctor appointment records, dental forms (yes, I had to take him to the dentist with only four teeth in his mouth), medication logs and “developmental screening appointments.”

When Malachi was about 5-months-old, I was informed that he needed quarterly “developmental appointments” with DCFS and he was, at that time, two months behind. I got an email from DCFS indicating the time and date of Malachi’s appointment. The email did not ask me if the time was okay, it was merely confirming the date and time that I was expected to show up. Fortunately, I was able to accommodate the appointment.

The thirty minute drive downtown was not a problem, but the parking situation did raise my blood pressure. I can parallel park, but I don’t like to, and I certainly couldn’t squeeze into the spots that were available. I ended up parking in the lot that was designated DCFS, but it was just as stressful as street parking. It was less like a parking lot and more like a small dirt field surrounded by a chain-link fence with a very small entrance and exit. There were no designated spaces and it appeared that the cars were parked in a zig-zag pattern. I couldn’t tell where I was supposed to drive, let alone leave my car. I finally chose a spot as close to the exit as possible and hoped that I wasn’t blocking anyone in.

The facility was located on a picturesque street with more mature trees than you would expect for downtown Chicago. There was a bright-green, grassy median down the center of the entire block with a small fence surrounding it. The beauty was instantly gone the minute I was buzzed in through the double doors. The smell of old urine hit my nose and I made a conscious effort to breathe out of my mouth right away. There was uniformed police officer to my left seated at a little card table and straight ahead was a reception area that was shielded by a thick layer of glass. There were parental rights and child advocacy posters randomly hanging on the dismal white walls. Rather than take the risk of the woman with the gun telling me I was going in the wrong direction, I chose to turn left toward the police officer only to have her guide me to the reception window. After signing in, I pushed the stroller to the waiting area that contained a few stand-alone fabric chairs and two black leather couches. On the first visit I sat next to a couple of older social workers catching up on some work gossip, and they instantly shifted their focus to my cute little man. One of them asked to hold him and with a high-pitched grandma voice said, “Oh my goodness what a precious baby, and he is smiling and alert, are you the foster mom? You are doing such a great job, we don’t see too many babies coming in like this.” The comment struck me as odd, but I accepted the compliment as we were called back to the long corridor leading to the meeting room.

The girl we met with was named Bridget and she appeared very young.  She had dark hair with clear green eyes and skin as white as the walls. Her demeanor was very soft spoken but confident and graceful. She chose her words carefully and was slow and deliberate with her delivery. The small room we were escorted into was jam-packed. Along the wall immediately to the right were a line of folding chairs, the back wall contained a kid’s kitchen play-set, a folded mat, two overflowing toy boxes, a play baby crib and high chair. The wall on the left contained two book shelves with games, puzzles and bins full of blocks and other educational toys. Finally, directly to my left was an over-full desk like the one my eighth grade teacher had, taking up the entire length of the wall. In the middle of the room was a kids table and chairs. There was no room for the stroller so I had to leave it in the hallway. I sat down in one of the folding chairs with Malachi on my lap and waited for instruction. The majority of the first visit was spent talking about my little man and his likes and dislikes, watching him smile and assessing his strength. I felt like she was observing my interaction with him. When she asked me if I had any concerns, I mentioned the fact that he did not sleep well at all and had a very difficult time soothing himself. I told her that from the time we brought him home, his body was almost always stiff. He wasn’t that newborn that was comfortable curling up on your chest for long periods of time. It took effort to make him relax. I mentioned that Daryl and I were not convinced that he was not exposed to some drug in utero. I informed Bridget that this is something I bring up on a regular basis to our case worker. She made her notes and said we would just watch this behavior as he grew.

The next two visits went pretty much the same way. Each time Bridget confirmed for me that cognitively and physically, he was developing in the upper percentile of his peers, and I would let out a sigh of relief. She was always impressed with his strength and agility. She would observe him throwing a ball, picking up a small object, and a few other small tasks. Bridget liked for me to get involved as much as possible, so I would build blocks with Malachi, play peek-a-boo and do a small puzzle. She asked questions the entire time we played and learned that he loved to be outside, to read books, but still did not know how to calm himself down or put himself to sleep. As he grew, his behavior became more intense. It was as if every emotion he was feeling was met with such a zest that he couldn’t contain himself. If Malachi was happy, he was emoting that with 110% energy. If he was hurt or angry, it was met with that same intensity, only louder. His temper was so explosive for such a little person. It would typically happen when he didn’t get his way, which was normal, but he would sometimes scream, shake and cry for an hour or more for no visible reason. She asked me if I was overly concerned about the behavior and I indicated that I was; however, most people assured me that I was dealing with typical “boy” behavior and I just wasn’t used to that because I had raised two girls. Ms. Theresa, Malachi’s babysitter, had raised three boys and she did her best to reassure me that his behavior would get better, and it was just that “XY” chromosome factor. But then again, even she would shake her head sometimes with his temper. Bridget always took notes but never said much beyond the fact that he was developing normally. I always felt like she was observing me as well and would ask questions about Bio-Mom and Bio-Dad, the visits and the process. I wasn’t sure if she was just being friendly or if it was part of the appointment, and I always kept my guard up when talking with her.

Toward the end of our fourth appointment, Bridget handed me a clipboard with a questionnaire on it and seemed embarrassed when she asked me to fill it out.  She apologized and said that it was a new DCFS policy and all foster parents with children under the age of five had to complete it. When I started reading through the invasive form, I understood why she hesitated. The questions were fair enough, but the way they were worded was so negative and aggressive that I felt uncomfortable even reading them. I can’t remember them all, but a few were worded something like this:

“I often get angry and resentful because my life has changed so much after my foster child came”

“I feel distraught and alone when I can’t get my foster child to stop crying”

“I often feel like my foster child hates me”

“I often want to hit my foster child when they misbehave”

“I am depressed and regret the decision to become a foster parent”

Then I was instructed to check a box that said “always, never, sometimes, or I don’t know.” There were two pages of questions and not one of them said “I love my foster child” or “my foster child has enhanced my life.” There was NOTHING positive on that paper.  I wanted to discuss it with Bridget but chose to remain silent and check “NEVER” for every question.

Of course there were certain days when I wondered what in the world I was thinking when I jumped on that DCFS-crazy train, but not because of Malachi himself. I mean, he was challenging at times, but he was my son and I love him. It was the system, the way it was structured, and the way I was treated that I got so frustrated with, not caring for my son. But there were no questions about that, only negatively worded statements that, to me, were looking for someone with hate in their heart for their foster child.

I drove home obsessing over the questionnaire. It was so hard to piece together the puzzle that was the foster system. There were so many moving parts, but none of them were communicating with each other effectively. I was curious as to what someone was trying to accomplish with those questions. If they were trying to piss off a foster parent or two, they accomplished their goal. Of all of the things that needed to get changed within the system, and they chose to pay someone to come up with a questionnaire like that. Just another frustrating moment.

“Turning One”

As I sat going over the checklist for Malachi’s first birthday party, I allowed myself a few minutes to ponder how much the last year had changed our lives. There were the obvious ways that included lack of sleep, busier schedules, fewer dinners out and no more last minute excursions. Then there was the state of Illinois and our private agency stressors that were just too many to even articulate. But what I wanted to focus on was the fact that this little man changed our lives for the better in so many ways. His smile could lighten up our moods and his laughter was the best medicine ever. He had such a massive and exciting personality for such a little person, and we took great joy in watching it evolve every day. It didn’t matter what emotion he was displaying, it was abundantly clear how he was feeling. I did not think that we were “missing a piece” in our lives before him, and I really try to stay clear of cliché sayings, but it really did fit to say that he completed our family. He challenged us in ways that made us stronger as a unit, and he showed us happiness that brought us together on another level.

Malachi’s first birthday party/sibling visit was a success. Marco was there with Justin and Edward, but he didn’t drive himself, which was curious to me. He rode along with Tim, the agency aid who transported the boys. Marco greeted me with his backwards left hand “shake” and his soft whisper “Hello Stephanie.” What stopped me in my tracks this time was his jacket. My 9-year-old daughter had the same exact one. I know, because I bought it at the girl’s clothing store “Justice” just months prior. It was a pink and green floral-patterned, zip-up hoodie that fit his larger frame a bit snug. Marco and Tim sat alone the entire visit and didn’t really communicate with anyone. Kena brought Angela and Tameka because Ms. Persons wasn’t comfortable driving outside the city, but when she asked a few months prior if she could ride along with the transporter, she was told it was against the rules. Cheryl and Darrin were there with Jay and Josie, and about 15 minutes in, Cheryl whispered in my ear, “Tomorrow we discuss the fact that Marco is here with the transporter and whether we tell Ms. Persons, and more importantly, what in the world he was thinking when he bought that jacket.”

The party itself went very smoothly. We had Mickey Mouse cakes, hats, music and even an appearance from the big mouse himself. Malachi had always been consistent with the fact that the more chaotic his surroundings were, the calmer he was. He wasn’t sure what to think of the life-size version of his favorite character trying to give him a high-five, but quickly warmed up. Luckily the weather held out and the kids were able to decorate pumpkins outside and run around the back yard.

Two weeks prior to Malachi’s first birthday, Bio-Mom showed up to the visit with a chocolate-chip cookie and size 2T, used underwear in a Jewel bag for him. Taryn was with me that week and got to meet Bio-Mom in the flesh. It was interesting to watch them interact with each other because Bio-Mom was actually comfortable and confident when talking with my 9-year-old daughter. Somehow, Taryn’s presence put her at ease and we ended up having a nice visit as we sang happy birthday to Malachi and exchanged pleasantries without any tension. Before she left, Bio-Mom reached deep into one of her bags and pulled out a card with no envelope for Malachi and said “you can read it if you want to.” Pictured on the front of the card was a chunky baby with puckered lips, a scrunched up face and a party hat on, but when I opened the inside, all that was there was the pre-printed “happy birthday.” I handed her a pen and asked her if she wanted to sign it. She sat down and wrote “I love you son, we will be together soon. Mom.”

“Next Time”

I have such strong feelings about the way the foster-care system is run and how jaded the people in it are; however, I find myself becoming increasingly more negative and defensive, and less flexible and caring. I love my son and what he has brought to our family and I wouldn’t change my decision, but I feel like I’m starting to lose my ability to understand or care where someone else is coming from. It’s so hard when your feelings are so exposed and vulnerable. I’ll tell you about more frustrations next time.

*Names have been changed

Chapter 16 – More Bio-Visits

Dear Judge,

There is something about a cobblestone street that calms me. If the car is going slow enough, the sound of the tires rolling over the bricks is almost hypnotic. As I sat on the bench outside our office one Thursday morning waiting for our 9:00 am visit with Bio-Dad, I knew that the street was contributing to my short-lived moment of peace. The sun was shining bright and there was a perfect breeze. The hustle of the day was just starting with commuters bustling to the train with briefcases in hand, mothers pushing strollers, dog-walkers with their little blue bags, and diners sitting outside the restaurant eating their breakfast across the street. Their lives all seemed so normal in that moment as I sat there holding my son wondering if his bio-parents were going to show up for their weekly meetings, secretly hoping that they wouldn’t. I pondered how very “not-normal” we were. Normal is such a relative word. I mean, you never really know what’s going on in someone else’s life. I usually took pride in the fact that we weren’t “run-of-the-mill,” but oh how I would have loved to feel traditionally normal at that time.

It was that same street where my husband ran into Ethel, the foster-mother who assisted during our training classes. They caught up briefly and Daryl filled her in on Malachi and how shocked we were about the process of fostering. The comment that Ethel made to him that stuck out the most was that when her private agency gets a call with a new child needing a home, they don’t use the child’s name internally. Instead, they use the term “bed,” meaning, they might say to someone “we have a 9-year-old bed who needs a placement.” I don’t know why that shocked me so much, but it did. I understand how hard it would be to watch children be displaced, abused and neglected day in and day out and somehow find a way to disconnect, but they are people, not things. Little, innocent people who deserve to be called by their name.

“Kena & Cheryl”

I hadn’t spoken with Cheryl, Jay’s foster mom, since court. Sometimes we would talk almost daily and other times we would go weeks without a peep. But as soon as either one of us had a home visit, a call with the attorney or some Bio-Mom information, we would fill each other in right away. Cheryl had just had her home visit with Kena and called me on her way to work the next morning. In summary, Kena said that Bio-Mom was in a shelter and doing very well. She was going on job interviews and was probably going to get to see all of the kids together coming up in the next few months. She said Bio-Mom was attending all of her classes and the parenting course even reinstated her. What Kena told Cheryl was completely contradictory to what Henry informed us at the courthouse. She said that, in her opinion, and with the wording he used, it sounded as if the judge was leaning toward “return to home” when talking to Bio-Mom. After a moment of pause to take in what she said, I asked her to repeat it and then asked her if she was certain that’s what Kena meant. Cheryl confirmed that her reaction was the same as mine and she asked Kena to repeat herself, and she did, word for word. We discussed who would benefit more by lying to us, Henry or Kena, but it just didn’t make any sense at all. I am typically a “go for the underdog” kind of girl in most situations, so it is a foreign feeling for me to root against someone, but I am ashamed to admit that I secretly wanted Bio-Mom to fail.

“Bio-Mom visits”

It was true that Bio-Mom was following through on more of her commitments. Even though she was late almost every week, she was indeed showing up for her visits with Malachi. He had started walking so she didn’t have to hold him anymore and that made the hour a lot easier. I was told by Kena that my presence at the visits was indeed making the case a little stronger for Bio-Mom. She echoed Henry’s sentiment about Bio-Mom’s attorney being able to say that my presence was limiting her chances of bonding with her son. Until different arrangements were made, I was told to at least stay out of sight. Daryl’s private office was to the left of our waiting room so I would shut myself in there and hide until the hour was over or I was called to help. Ms. Williams was always there and that eased my mind a little because as much as she was an advocate for Bio-Mom, she was definitely protective of Malachi.

Daryl’s office, where I hid out during the visits, was well within ear shot of everything that happened, and it also had a window with blinds that I could peek out of if I really wanted to see what was going on. Since the weather was nice outside Ms. Williams did everything she could to convince Bio-Mom to take Malachi out, but she was not a fan and preferred to stay inside. Before each visit I would fill the waiting room strategically with toys, books and things for Malachi to keep busy with for the two hours he was there, and his crying began to decrease a little more as time went on. He still had many episodes with Bio-Mom and I would occasionally be called to help, but they were not near as traumatizing.

Even though Bio-Mom was showing up, she was still not engaging him at all. She didn’t talk to him unless it was to scold him and she fell asleep at least once almost every week. I would hear Ms. Williams say “you’re going to have to wake up if you want to finish this visit.” She still did not ask me any questions about him and I stopped filling her in. She did occasionally bring him food but I asked that she not give it to him during the visit because, to be honest, I had no idea what it was. She would hand me a triple-bagged Jewel-type grocery bag that was oozing with grease ON THE OUTSIDE, filled with five or six big balls of wet foil with a half-inch of drippings in the bottom of the bag. I only attempted to open one foil ball one time, and I think it was sweet potatoes, but I really can’t be sure. I know that it was just Bio-Mom’s way of extending an olive branch and she was proud of the fact that she cooked for her baby, and I thanked her as if I were going to feed him the contents that day. As usual, I felt bad for my behavior when I threw the bag away, but there was no way I would put that food inside the body of anyone I loved.

One particular visit in September I mentioned to Ms. Williams that Bio-Mom was wearing some bigger clothing and I was suspicious that she may be pregnant again. Ms. Williams confirmed that she had the same suspicion but when she asked Bio-Mom about it she denied it. Kena also mentioned that she was questioning a “baby bump.” During that same visit, Malachi had an exceptionally big temper tantrum and while she was trying to detain him, he hit her in the face. Surprisingly, she didn’t lose her cool but she did say, “You want to beat me up today, your daddy beat me up last night and last week it was some other man. Why do you all think you can just beat on me?”

A few weeks later Bio-Mom showed up at the visit visibly uncomfortable and said that she wasn’t feeling well. After she spent at least 30 minutes in the bathroom, Ms. Williams brought Malachi to me and said she was going to check on her. Ms. Williams knocked on the door and Bio-Mom said she’d be right out. After another 10 minutes she walked out of the bathroom and straight out the front door without speaking a word to anyone. After Ms. Williams left, I casually walked into the bathroom and could not believe the mess that lay before me. It was everywhere, and I cannot even say for certain what it was. It looked like some sort of blood but a bit darker and grainier with definitive blood mixed in occasionally. It reminded me of the consistency you get when you take a band aid off and rub the glue residue on your skin until you can roll it and it dissolves into sand-like bits. But it was the color of an older blood mixed with a brighter shade. It was all over the front of the toilet, the back, the pedestal, and the seat cover. It was on the floor and the walls and the sink. I snapped some pictures but deleted them because it felt wrong that I had taken them to begin with. I couldn’t stand opening up my camera roll and seeing them. As the weeks evolved and Bio-Mom started wearing regular clothing with no protrusion in her mid-section, I can only assume that she had a miscarriage and the scene in our bathroom was just a remnant of that.

The added element of fighting the negative feelings I had toward Bio-Mom, coupled with the feelings of pity and sorrow I also had for her, were just as exhausting as caring for a highly-energetic toddler who did not like to sleep. I felt beaten down, guilty, and drained of all energy from every single aspect. I did not feel like the same person as when I started this journey. Instead of a woman full of eagerness to “help” and make a difference, I felt like I just wanted everyone to leave me alone to raise this beautiful baby the way he deserved.

“Bio-Dad Visits”

Bio-Dad made two appearances in two months and they were both equally as interesting. I found it ironic that as soon as Bio-Mom started pulling her shit together, Bio-Dad fell apart.

“Bio-Dad Visit #1”

Ms. Williams arrived on time for the visit and Bio-Dad walked in behind her with a cloud of funk right behind him. I had seen Bio-Dad with questionable appearance, but never dirty. The offensive odor hit my nose before I could even open my mouth to say hello. I think that Mac even smelled it because he got a puzzled, almost scared look on his face and crawled really fast to climb up my leg. It smelled like a combination of regular-old pungent underarm odor with just flat out filth that might come from a basket of dirty clothes that sat for weeks. It was so bad that I started to panic that I would not be able to endure it for the next hour. His left hand was bandaged so thick that it looked as if a small pillow encompassed the entire appendage. He did not address anyone, instead he just went to the corner chair and sat down. He wore a wrinkly t-shirt that was too tight and a pair of jeans that were, as always, down to his thighs revealing his gray boxer shorts underneath. Unsure how to break the ice I said a simple “hello” and tried to put Mac down onto the floor next to him. As my son clung onto my neck for dear life I thought “this is going to be a long day.” I was forced to endure the odor as I sat next to Bio-Dad while holding Malachi until he was comfortable enough to loosen his grip. When I asked him what happened to his hand he kind of waved the opposite hand dismissively, and very nonchalantly said “oh, I got shot.” Without really knowing how to respond to that, I just said “oh,” and put Malachi down on the floor to excuse myself. The remainder of Bio-Dad’s visit went on without my presence. Ms. Williams and Bio-Dad took Malachi for a short walk and handed him off to Bio-Mom for her hour, without me witnessing a thing.

Ms. Williams and I walked to our cars together after the visit was over and she told me that Bio-Dad was very emotional that day. First, he was angry with her because he had his girlfriend waiting in the car outside and Ms. Williams called him out and said that was against the rules. Then she said he broke down in tears when he heard Malachi say “dada.” She went on to say that they were in the park behind the office and Malachi was babbling, and out came “dada.” Her words were “I almost didn’t believe it, but he starting crying and repeating the phrase ‘he called me dada.’”

Bio-Dad was not his dad. Daryl was his dad. My husband was the one who taught him how to climb the stairs properly, took him to get his first pair of high-tops, his first haircut (which happened to be a disaster), changed his diapers, got up with him, carried him on his shoulders, tickled him, played with him, cared for him. Daryl was the role model teaching Malachi how to treat women and be a respectable man. On that particular visit, Malachi had been alive for 339 days, which was 8136 hours. Bio-Dad had seen him, at best, 6 hours of his life, and he really thought that he was recognizing him as dad? It’s strange to me that I reacted in such a defensive way and it made my heart ache a little more for the hateful person I felt like I was becoming. I am fully aware that to a bystander I looked like an asshole to take this little thing so hard. It’s endearing, right? He was touched this his flesh and blood said “dada.” Likely, he cried because he knew that Malachi would never call him that and mean it.

As I buckled Malachi in the car, I could feel myself getting more and more emotional so I said good-bye to Ms. Williams before I verbalized the thoughts in my head. I shut the car radio off and had a quick conversation with myself. My mind was racing from one thought to the next and I started to sweat from the mental exhaustion. As much as I said that I could handle the visits and the emotional roller coaster that goes with them, I wondered if I really could. Why did these Bio-People even attend the visits? They didn’t engage with Malachi at all. There was no sitting on the floor playing with toys, reading books, making animal noises, asking where his nose was. Bio-Mom appeared to show up because she had to, like it was a job that she didn’t want to be at. Bio-Dad just wanted to stare at the wonder that was his son. It just didn’t appear that they knew how to be parents for even an hour, let alone all of the time. Or did I just have a different view of what it meant to “parent?” I wanted to be with Malachi, like all of the time. I wanted to play peek-a-boo and chase him around to hear him belly laugh. I wanted to watch him soak in his surroundings and learn about absolutely everything, and I wanted to be the one to teach him about life.

“Bio-Dad Visit #2”

When neither Bio-Dad nor Ms. Williams showed up by 9:20 am one Thursday morning, I assumed the visit was canceled and no one remembered to call me again. But when my phone rang and Henry’s name popped up, I got that anxious fluttering feeling in my tightening stomach. Since Henry made the “even gang members can be good parents” declaration I had kept my distance. I answered with a very professional, “This is Stephanie.” He stuttered his response with the usual “this is Henry, Henry from the public guardian’s office,” but it was what he said next that made me lose any respect that I had left for him. I know he thought he was being funny, I didn’t lose sight of that at all. However, his choice of topic to joke about just made me realize how very ignorant he was about how it felt to be me. Of course his tone was the same as always when he delivered, “Mrs. Davis we had an emergency meeting with the judge and he has decided to grant Bio-Dad custody. Someone from the agency will pick him up from your home this afternoon.” I did not speak. I did not move. I could not process what he was saying and why he would even BEGIN to think it was funny. After a very long awkward silence he said “Well, of course I’m just kidding,” and after another moment of me not speaking, he cleared his throat and said “It turns out Bio-Dad was arrested a couple of nights ago for assaulting Bio-Mom and moving forward they are going to move the visits to the courthouse for everyone’s safety.” He told me that the case worker would be calling me soon to discuss the details. As we were hanging up Kena was calling on the other line.

Her opening comment was “You’re going to be so mad at me Mrs. Davis, I forgot to call you again about the visit being canceled.” Because my mind was still reeling over Henry’s conversation I didn’t have any words for her either, so she just went on to tell me the same Bio-Dad story that Henry did. Starting the next week I would have no choice but to have an agency transporter take Malachi to the courthouse for Bio-Dad visits, if he was out of jail by then. There was a room there called the Greenroom that was specifically designated for visits with bio-parents. She said we would discuss the specifics at our next home visit which was scheduled for the following week.

I hung up the phone and hugged my baby boy a little tighter than normal and whispered to him that I loved him. He had a cold and had fallen asleep on my chest so I just sat there waiting for the 10:00 visit with Bio-Mom to start. I had not even fully recovered from Henry’s inappropriate joke when, at 9:45, the front door to the office opened with force, and in lumbered Bio-Dad looking like someone had just dug him out of a garbage can. He was sweating profusely and hunched over holding his chest like he had just been punched. He was disheveled and breathing heavy as he forcefully fell into one of the chairs to avoid falling over. It was adrenaline that took over my body and I said “are you okay?” He said “no, no I’m not.” I asked Tina, who I forgot was even sitting at the front desk, to get him a bottle of water. As he drank the water he told me his story with huffs and puffs between every few words. He said that the police had beaten him ten days ago and then he was arrested for battery. He went on to say that when he was younger he had gang ties, and because of that, the police thought they were allowed to search him and beat him. He thought he had broken ribs. So many questions raced through my brain, but I just didn’t have the energy to ask them. He looked so young and scared sitting in front of me and though I did have a twinge of sympathy for whatever happened to him, he was not my concern in the least. Protecting the innocence sleeping on my chest was my only priority as I explained to Bio-Dad that I was informed that his visit was canceled. When he asked why, all I could do was shrug my shoulders, shake my head and twist my mouth to say “I don’t know.” I went on to tell him that the baby was sick, and I really didn’t want to disturb his sleep for a 10 minute visit. He said that he understood and only wanted to look at him. He sat for another five minutes filling me in on the attorney he was going to hire to sue the state and how he had to take a lie detector test the following day. He didn’t ask me one question about how Malachi was doing. Not one. He didn’t ask me about his illness or how he was sleeping. He didn’t ask me what he was eating or about his likes and dislikes. He didn’t ask me any questions about his son. He hadn’t seen his son in three weeks and he didn’t have one question for me.

“Next Time”

We had made it a year! Malachi was turning one-year-old and it was a Mickey Mouse themed birthday party. He was starting to hum the theme song to Mickey Mouse’s Clubhouse and loved watching the show so we celebrated Mickey-style with a sibling visit too. It seemed that the year dragged on so slowly, but at the same time, it felt as if it went by with the blink of an eye. I’ll tell you about it next time.

Stephanie

 

*Names have been changed

Chapter 15 – Adjudication

Dear Judge,

My opinion early on was that either you were not interested in any part of the case that didn’t “legally” matter, or you could not take into account many aspects and facts because your hands were tied. Regardless of the reason, I had a problem with it, because there was so much more to this family than Bio-Parents proving themselves fit to take care of their children. I think that more consideration should be taken when talking about how long a child is kept in the system. I understand that there is a lot to review and this is a very complex topic, and that can take time. However, in my opinion, the longer a child is left wondering where they are going to spend the rest of their lives, the more damage that is done to them. Especially when there is mental illness, physical abuse or neglect involved in their history. Obviously, I am not an attorney or a social worker, but I feel like that’s something that the powers-that-be should at least consider. After all, what is foster care for? The best interest and safety of the children. I think that the legal processes sometimes gets in the way of the ultimate goal. Unfortunately, the kids, the foster families, and the reality of what they go through, just with day-to-day living, gets overlooked. In the end, that makes a huge impact on the very lives that the foster care system is there to protect.

“Jason and Edward”

It was about six months into the case when my mom and aunt were visiting for the weekend. We were on our way to Portillo’s for our tradition of chicken chopped salad when my phone rang and popped up with Kena’s name. I never heard from anyone regarding the case on the weekends, so when I saw her name come up on a Saturday I knew it would be interesting. I answered cautiously with “Kena?” She was clearly distraught and her voice was oozing with desperation. “Mrs. Davis, I was hoping that you and your husband could help us out. We had to remove Jason and Edward from their foster mom, Kesha. She had a boyfriend living with her who has been arrested for marijuana possession. I don’t have anywhere for the boys to go and was just reaching out to see if you could keep them for the weekend, and I will see what I can do on Monday.” My mind went immediately to the sibling visits and how emotionally out of control Jason was and how chaotic and loud it would get. Then I thought about where we would put them, especially right now with extra visitors in the house. I explained to Kena that we had company for the weekend and I didn’t really have the room, but told her that I would call Daryl and see what he thought. When I hung up the phone I knew I would say no, I just didn’t know how to justify it to her or myself. I was genuinely invested in all six of the children, cared about them and felt some level of responsibility toward them. I felt so bad about saying no that I tried to convince myself that I could make it work. However, I had a feeling that when Kena said that she would do her best to get them placement on Monday that she was not being honest. If they were in a stable home, it would not be her priority. I also knew my limitations and I was pretty close to overloaded. I did call my husband for the final exclamation point to the decision, and his response was a definitive, “yeah… uh, no.”

When I called Kena back I was relieved that I didn’t have to start the excuses, because she immediately let me know that she found someone to take both boys and it was a permanent placement. Jason and Edward were placed with a single man on the south side named Marco. The relief I felt was met with a piece of chocolate cake for dessert, but it turned a little bitter in my mouth when I realized how distressing it had to be for the boys and how scared they probably were. They likely felt rejected and were shuffled around again.

“Sibling Visit”

Cheryl had the June sibling visit at her house and all of the foster parents would be in attendance. It was the first time I got to meet Ms. Persons, foster-mother to Angela and Tameka, and Marco, now foster-father to Jason and Edward.

Ms. Persons appeared to be an older woman but I did not believe her age matched her appearance. I googled her when I got home and found out she was 53-years-old, but she looked more like 63. My first impression was that she was intimidating. I have been told that I have a “resting bitch face,” and so I always try not to judge someone based on if their face looks angry. Ms. Person’s face was not warm and inviting. It did not say “come and say hello to me,” instead, it said “if you approach me the wrong way, I will bite your arm off.” I persisted, and eventually chipped through her armor and she ended up being a really nice lady. She had adopted a relative through the foster system years ago and decided to do it again. She worked full-time and when she was called to take Angela and Tameka she asked specifically if there were any special needs. She was told no. Ms. Persons was informed that both girls were healthy, both mentally and physically. She knew right away that wasn’t true and when she brought it up to the case worker at her first visit over a month after the girls were placed with her, she was told that if the girls were to be “specialized” they would have to transfer to another agency, and that meant removal from Ms. Person’s home. She said that scared her because she already loved them and didn’t want them moved. So, other than the IEP that was in place at school, the girls had no additional services, and they both needed it. Cheryl was far more knowledgeable than me about the foster care system and informed Ms. Persons that she should request evaluations and additional services without specializing, that’s what the $20,000-$30,000 per month that the agency received was supposed to be used for.

The visit itself went pretty good. Angela’s behavior was clearly better when Ms. Persons was around. Angela was always doing her own thing, but that particular visit she did her own thing without any aggression or outbursts.

Marco was a surprise to me in many ways. He was a larger man, probably 6’3” and 260 pounds. I introduced myself and when I went to shake his hand, I thought he was joking as he gave me his left fingertips like he was the Queen of England waiting for me to kiss them. Then when he opened his mouth I knew it wasn’t a joke, he was just extremely “soft.” I am not exaggerating, even a little, when I say his tone was barely above a whisper. In fact, I had to stop trying to have a conversation with him because I literally could not hear him. He didn’t seem to understand me either. I would be waiting for a response to a question, and he would just look at me with a half-grin on his face without muttering a word. The boys seemed to be attached to him already and appeared happy, but I just didn’t get how they could communicate with him. If I’m being completely honest, I wondered if Marco was a bit delayed himself in the cognitive department. I wondered how he got through the process of obtaining a foster license to begin with. His demeanor and presence was not one of an authoritative figure to me, and I wondered how he would manage the handful that these boys could potentially become. On the way home I put a call in to Cheryl to find out what her opinion was of him. Let’s just say that we agreed. We both hoped that he was just having an “off” day.

“Kena”

Kena’s home visit before court was spent filling me in on Bio-Mom and Bio-Dad and their services, and educating me on what to expect from the adjudication hearing.

Bio-Mom was inconsistent with all of her services, from visits with her kids to her parenting classes. She was dangerously close to being kicked out of the parenting class for not showing up and not participating. Bio-Dad was keeping up on his classes, but she did not have the results of his first drug test yet.

Kena let her guard down a little on that particular visit letting me know that she didn’t plan on being with the agency much longer. I met her revelation with sadness because, even though I didn’t always like what she had to say, she was at least getting things done. She informed me that a case worker only makes roughly $33,000 per year. That was shocking to me. She had so many lives in her hands and so many responsibilities, yet she only made $33,000 per year. It became clear to me why the turnover was so frequent. It also made me wonder once again what the agency did with all of that money they got for this family.

“Adjudication Trial”

The first person I recognized as I entered the small holding area outside the courtroom was Bio-Mom. She looked nicer than normal today, dressed in black leggings with a white long-sleeved shirt and a black vest. Her hair was straightened in a normal style and was not even sticking out anywhere. She greeted me with a smile and a friendly nod. I sat three rows behind her in the church-pew style seating. As I sat down, I saw Kena emerge from the court room with a few other individuals I didn’t recognize. She looked nice as always, wearing black pants and a turquoise shirt. Her hair was in a neat pony-tail with her natural curls surrounding the top of her head. She greeted me with a hug and then went to sit next to Bio-Mom as she pulled out her trusty note pad.

When my eyes found Henry I almost let out a giggle. He had his hair in its usual style with a big swoop sprayed high up in the front, but it was his outfit that had me confused. Now, I am the first one to admit that I am not a fashion guru; however, I seriously wondered if he even looked in the mirror before he left his house. He had a black suit on with matching wide-rimmed glasses, a checkered dark-purple, light-purple dress shirt on with an even darker purple shimmering tie. It was a lot of different purples for one small man. When he walked you could see bright, blood-red shiny socks that peeked out of his polished shoes. For a brief moment I wondered if it was mismatch day like the kids have at summer camp, but quickly dismissed the idea. He looked surprised to see me and put out his hand to greet me, “Hello Mrs. Davis, did I know you were coming today?” I tried hard to look away from the dizzying shirt and tie while I firmly shook his hand and said “I don’t know Henry, but I’m here just in case this trial actually happens today.” He politely asked me to meet with him privately in a conference room just outside the courtroom. I followed him into the tiny room that only housed a small table and four chairs while reminding myself that I need this man on my side and I should avoid conflict. I just kept repeating to myself, “no matter what, keep ALL opinions to yourself and be polite.” Since this court date was supposed to happen twice before and ended up being canceled, Daryl did not take the day off work, and I knew Cheryl was going to be late, but I really wished I had someone with me.

Henry dryly gave me his “this is what will happen today” speech and then asked me how the visits were going. I filled him in on the no-shows, the crying with Bio-Mom and how hard it was to get Malachi to engage with her. I told him that I do my best to work with her but she could be difficult. He clasped his hands together after pushing his glasses up his nose, and as he sat back and crossed his legs I caught a glimpse of the screaming bright red socks and had to hold back my amusement. He was without emotion when he said, “Well, Mrs. Davis I’m not so sure that you giving Bio-Mom parenting advice is the direction we want these visits to take. If Bio-Mom needs help with her parenting it is the case worker’s responsibility to get her the guidance from a professional. When trial to terminate comes, we want to say that we gave her every chance to prove herself.” I politely told him that I report everything to Kena and that I don’t give Bio-Mom advice, I am merely helping my son when he is upset. I explained to him that the things I show her are specific to Malachi, not to parenting in general, and if I don’t help her understand him, he is the one who suffers. I did understand his point, but I couldn’t just sit back and watch her fumble with my son and not step in, even though she ignores me most of the time. I had gone back and forth about letting a transporter take him to the visits so I didn’t have to subject myself to the temptation and stress, but again, it just was not in my controlling nature to let that happen until I was forced to. I did believe that I would eventually have no choice. Cheryl was always there to let me know that I was crazy to endure those weekly visits and I did agree with her. Sanity is overrated anyway. There is so much out of my control in regards to Malachi’s care that I wanted to hold on to everything that I could.

Henry and I were interrupted by a knock at the door because they were ready to start. I followed him into the courtroom with Kena, Bio-Mom and her attorney, Bio-Dad and his attorney, and a couple of women I did not recognize. We all stood in front of the handsome judge sitting up on his pedestal and waited for him to address us. I still found myself shocked at his appearance as he peered up above his reading glasses and recited “everyone please state their full name and who they are in connection with this case.” I learned that the two women I did not know were DCFS workers there to testify because they were present when the children were originally removed from Bio-Mom. I was surprisingly calm when it was my turn and did not stutter or hesitate when I explained who I was. The Judge asked me how Malachi was doing and asked if he needed anything. I responded that he was doing exceptionally well and needed nothing except for this case to be over. Okay, I didn’t actually say that last part. He thanked me for taking care of Malachi and excused me to wait outside again. He also excused Kena and one of the DCFS workers while the other one testified. I waited on the bench with Kena and we talked about how Bio-Mom and Bio-Dad were doing on their services. I learned that not much had changed. She showed me a list of the services that Bio-Dad had to complete and stated that, in her opinion, he would get overwhelmed very quickly. The services I could see at a glance were anger management, parenting, drug counseling and rehab, domestic violence, psychiatric analysis and a few more. When I asked her if the drug test came back positive she looked up from her paper with an expression that I read as “of course,” and said “what do you think?”

Cheryl arrived and joined us along with the other DCFS worker who was waiting her turn to testify. The conversation that ensued with the worker was curious and explained to Cheryl why Jay removed his shirt all of the time. The woman explained that every time she was called into Bio-Mom’s home, someone was naked. One time it was one of the children, another time it was more than one of them, and on another instance it was even Bio-Mom herself.

The worker, and then Kena were called to testify as Cheryl and I waited for the “permanency” part of the trial to start. We used the time to catch each other up on the boys and our individual lives. It was 4:00 when everyone came out of the court room. The first one out was Bio-Dad and he did not look happy.  He was walking with his shoulders back and his chest puffed out looking straight ahead with pursed lips and a furrowed brow. “Well he looks like a hot mess” was Cheryl’s comment. Bio-Mom and her attorney went to a far right corner and whispered with sour faces as well. Her attorney reminded me of an older, burnt-out actor with his very obvious toupee and Botox injections. His facial expression never changed. Bio-Dad’s attorney rushed to his side as they discussed something with very serious faces. She was an average-looking woman with a dark-blue pant suit on and a button-up shirt with Birkenstocks and socks. She had sandy-brown hair that was cut in an Ellen-DeGeneres style and she wore no makeup. She appeared to move and speak with a care-free attitude. I always admire that in someone. She was clearly doing her best to calm down her client.

As everyone else piled out of the court room one at a time, the tension was released and Cheryl and I were wondering if this was a break or if it was over. Kena approached us first and did confirm that Cheryl wasted her time leaving work early because they were done for the day. Apparently there was not time for the permanency part of the hearing. The good news was that disposition was done and therefore, the clock was starting to tick. Nine months from that day the Judge would be able to change the goal to terminate rights if he saw fit. We asked why Bio-Dad and Bio-Mom looked so upset and she shrugged her shoulders and said “because I had to look at them in the eye and testify that they are not doing everything that they can. I had to tell the truth and they didn’t want to hear the truth.” I wanted to hug her. We ended our conversation discussing the upcoming sibling visit and then Kena left.

I turned around to see the disco-bright purple tie and blood-red socks coming toward us. At that point everyone had cleared out of the “holding area” and so Henry sat down to fill us in. I hadn’t figured out why yet, but I frequently had a hard time following what Henry was trying to say. It’s almost as if he was trying to word everything so articulately that he ended up overdoing it and stuttering through. What I got out of the conversation was that court went pretty good. Some phrases that stuck out in our awkward conversation were, “the Judge was hard on Bio-Mom today and told her that she doesn’t get to be a mom one month and then decide the next month that she can’t,” and the Judge mentioned to them both that it did not appear that they had made any progress. Then Henry added, “Quite frankly, and off the record, I don’t believe the goals in this case are attainable.” He informed us that there would be a permanency hearing on February 10th and then another date six months after that, at which time the Judge can move to terminate rights. When Cheryl asked if we were looking at another 1.5 years of this, he said yes. I asked him if all requirements had been met by Bio-Mom and Bio-Dad could the Judge extend it even further. His response was a confident, “yes, he could and likely would Mrs. Davis. We all make mistakes and every parent deserves every chance to correct their errors and we are always looking for the best interest of the child.” I physically became uncomfortable and fought back the urge to scream to him “I KNOW THEY MADE MISTAKES, YOU’VE TOLD ME THAT 100 TIMES!”  

It was his answer to Cheryl’s next question that made that all-too familiar hot feeling well up inside, and I could not keep quiet any more. I don’t even remember how the question was worded, but the response was forever embedded in my brain. “Well, I can tell you that Bio-Mom’s mental condition makes any declaration of giving up her parental rights void, meaning she is not competent enough for the court to let her make the decision to give up her parental rights.” I tried to remain calm with my response, even though I felt light-headed from the boiling anger that was making my entire body numb. “Wait a minute Henry, let me understand something, and forgive me if I am speaking out of turn, but you have told us from the beginning that every parent deserves a chance to rectify their mistakes and you have also repeatedly said that the courts best interest is that of the child. However, this woman has six difficult children, five of whom have SSI for one reason or another. They have been in foster care for almost an entire year now and you’re telling me that the woman who is being considered to gain custody of them, the SAME woman who raised them until a year ago, and damaged them beyond repair in some ways is not competent enough to give them up, but IS competent enough to get them back?  I just don’t understand in what world that makes sense.” I could tell midway through my rant, by the expression on his face that he did not have a good answer for me, so I answered my own question with what I thought his response might be and said “I know, it’s the law.” He pushed his glasses up his nose with his stubby little fingers and with an under-the-breath condescending snicker said “well, um, listen, off the record I just don’t see this case ever getting to the point of return to home. There is severe mental illness and a history; however, we do have to give her the opportunity to correct her mistakes.” There was really nothing else left to say.

“Next Time”

So you see Judge, I don’t really think that the system is completely designed to do what’s in the best interest of the child. At least not in this case. If the attorney, the case worker, and anyone else who had ever been involved thought that it was impossible for Bio-Mom to regain custody, why did these children have to wait in limbo while she was given so many opportunities? Malachi would be fine, even if this dragged on until he was 4-years-old; however, the older kids deserved more, and I believed that the system was failing them.

The visits did become harder, both with Bio-Mom and Bio-Dad. The agency did take away my choice to be present for the visits, but I tried to still keep some level of control. I’ll tell you about it next time.

Stephanie

august 2013

*Names have been changed

Chapter 14 – Visit Updates

Dear Judge,

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.

“Bio-Visits”

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.

“Bio-Dad visits”

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”

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.

“Next Time”

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.

Stephanie

 

 

*Names have been changed

Chapter 13 – Meet Bio-Dad

Dear Judge,

Malachi was seven-months-old when my daughter said to me, “so they’re for sure not going to take him away from us now, right mom?” She was under the impression that the older Mac got, the less of a chance he would be taken from us. I didn’t tell her that you hadn’t even ordered the case to officially start yet because I didn’t want her to stress any more than she already was. I didn’t tell her that we now had two Bio-parents trying to get custody of him. I tried to sound confident and brave without completely lying to her when I said “I don’t know, but we have to trust in the system, we have to believe that processes are in place to make sure that Malachi will be safe regardless of the outcome.” I looked at her with the most understanding eyes that I could muster and said “The Judge will do what’s right by Malachi.” Then I tried to convince myself of that truth. It is true, right? So if you decide that Bio-Dad has sufficiently proven himself as a stand-up man and determine that it is safe and stable for Malachi, then it has to be true. I have no choice but to believe in you.

“The results”

I was driving home from volunteering at a PTC lunch at the girl’s school with Malachi sleeping peacefully in his car seat when the phone rang. It was Henry, and I could tell by his stutter that the news was not good. “Uh, Hello Mrs. Davis, this is Henry, uh, Henry from the Public Guardian’s office, and, uh, the paternity tests came back and actually, surprisingly, uh, one of the gentlemen was Malachi’s father.” I was speechless and felt my body slump into the seat of my car as if the leather suddenly turned into quicksand. Prospect #2 was my “baby daddy.” Mr. saggy-pants with the tattoos.

Henry explained to me that we would have to wait for Bio-Dad to show up to court on May 30th, get assigned a public defender and be assessed for services before we moved forward. I felt defeated as I stayed silent on my end of the phone and Henry, in his never-changing dry tone, reminded me that this was the same man who had an on-going relationship with a woman who was obviously mentally ill and that doesn’t say a lot about him. I don’t think he realized that this did not make me feel better at all. There was a home visit scheduled with Kena for the next day so I didn’t press for any more information.

I called my husband and he was as equally as shocked as I was. Daryl is one of the calmest people I’ve ever known and it takes a lot to rattle him. He didn’t disappoint when I told him the news. After a short pause, he let out a sigh and said, “Well that sucks. We’ll just have to see how it all unfolds. It doesn’t do any good to stress about what we don’t know and can’t control.” I think he was guarded and careful not to add to my already fragile state. He stayed strong and calm and I loved him so much for that.

“Kena”

Kena sat on my couch with a look that was hard to decipher when talking about Bio-Dad. It was somewhere between despair and sympathy. All she could tell me about him was that he had a very lengthy criminal record, 42 arrests. She could not, however, tell me what they were for. All she could tell me was that they were not “petty crimes.” I didn’t know how to take that comment. What’s “petty” to you might not be “petty” to me, right?  Does that mean guns? Drugs? I am definitely not well-versed in criminology; however, I don’t think they let rapists and murders walk the streets.

Kena explained to me that she had made a couple of attempts to reach Bio-Dad but he had not returned her call. After she reached him she would set up a meeting to prepare his case.

So once again, we waited.

“Thursday, May 30”

The day had finally arrived and I was heavy-sighing all day with anxiety. Nobody was sure if Bio-Dad would show or not. The reason Kena had not been able to set up a meeting with him before court was because the supervisors at the agency labeled it a “dangerous situation” to meet anywhere outside the agency because of those 42 “non-petty” arrests. I didn’t know if he wanted custody or what his intentions were. Kena said she would call me as soon as she got out of court and that started at 1:00. The hours crawled by and Malachi and I were both getting restless so we went on a walk. I strapped him in the stroller, put on my sneakers, plugged in my headphones and off we went. I was enjoying some Usher and soaking in the beautiful day when my phone rang.

“Hi Mrs. Davis, how are you?”

“Doing good Kena, what’s going on?”

“Well, Mr. Bio-Dad came to court today and the Judge has ordered a supervised visit to happen before Monday. What do you have going on tomorrow?”

I will never walk that stretch of street again without recalling the physical feeling I had at that moment. There are no words to describe it, but I stopped walking and maybe even breathing for a second. It was as if time stalled while I processed what she said. After jolting myself back to reality, I explained to her that I had plans to leave town the following morning and would not return until Monday. She muffled the phone and relayed my message to who I am assuming was Bio-Dad. When her voice returned clearly to the phone she said “is there any way you could come back early?” I don’t know if my voice was as shaky as I thought, or if I sounded as I angry as I felt, but I responded with “I can’t believe after all that I do for this case that I am expected to change my plans. It’s pretty shitty that after all of the waiting I’ve been doing you are going to ask me to be inconvenienced again.” After hearing the muffled sounds again she came back to our conversation with “We will settle for Monday then. I will be in touch regarding a location and time.”

I hung up the phone and my mind started to go into overdrive. What are these arrests for? Does he have other children? Does he have a job? I just remember seeing him in court with his nonchalant attitude and his pants down past his butt.  I recalled his demeanor and his comment to my husband, “this is all her fault anyway.” I wanted to cry, but I couldn’t. Daryl was out of town at a seminar so I had to leave him a message.

I could not stop the assault on my brain. The dizziness, thoughts and images were fast and furious, like a slide show on speed. I decided that I would call Henry, my ally, and see if he could calm my fears and give me a different perspective. In the very least I could find out what kind of dangerous man I was about to be forced to become involved with.

I had called Henry a handful of times and he answered the phone every single time. His voice was the still the same – very monotone and professional. I explained to him that I knew about what transpired in court and that I would feel more comfortable taking my son to meet Bio-Dad if I had more information on his criminal record. He put me on hold, and when he came back on the phone it was the first time I had ever picked up any inflection in his voice. Unfortunately, it was irritation that I was hearing. His normally boring voice was a little higher and sharper, “Mrs. Davis, the list of Bio-Dad’s offenses are extensive and I would have to ask my assistant write them down and call you back. There are 42 arrests and 8 convictions.” Then he added, “Mrs. Davis, please, engage me if you will, I don’t understand why you think that you would be in any danger at all, you’ll be in a public place. There is nothing on his record to indicate that he has molested a child or endangered any children at all, so I don’t understand your hesitation.”

I almost lost it. In fact, I can’t believe I didn’t. What I wanted to say was “what part don’t you understand asshole? What is it that your tiny brain can’t grasp? You don’t get that you people want me to treat this baby like my own and then after I fall in love with him and consider him my own you want to know why I am uncomfortable handing him over to a man who has 42 arrests and 8 convictions on his record? Are you a moron?” But I didn’t say that. If I had said anything else at that point I would have been crying so hysterically that he wouldn’t have been able to hear what I was actually saying. I felt betrayed as my one-time ally turned on me. Was he ever really my ally anyway? I’m just one foster mom in a pile of 200 families on his desk. I should be impressed that he even remembers who I am. I’m guessing the silence on my end of the phone said a lot and he went on to say “the charges range from aggravated assault, to drug charges, to criminal trespassing, and I can get you the list if you really need it.” I dryly responded “don’t bother, have a great day.” Before I could hang up on him he decided to poke this mama bear one more time with, “listen, I know how hard this process is on foster parents and I can understand your frustration. Bio-Dad has made his mistakes but he could prove to be a good father and he deserves that chance.” I rolled my eyes and responded with “he is likely a gang member with multiple arrests that include violent behavior so I don’t get why YOU don’t see this as a big deal.” It was his response that made me turn numb and feel like Mike Tyson just delivered his final blow to end the match. His regular monotone voice was back when he delivered, “we don’t know that he is a gang member for sure, and to be quite honest with you Mrs. Davis, even gang members can be good parents.”

“Coping through the weekend”

Kena called back and explained how it all would work.  She would have an “interview” with Bio-Dad, and from that extensive meeting they would decide what services he would need to complete. For example, the aggravated assault on his record might mean anger management classes. The drug charges might mean drug counseling. Kena alone had the power to determine how this man had to prove he can be a good father and what classes, counseling he would have to participate in. She already had an appointment set with him on Monday at 2:00 so she said we could do the visit at 1:00. I found out a few more specifics on Bio-Dad during our call. He did not have any children, was a foster child himself and he did indeed want full custody of my baby. The most shocking part of the phone call was when she said that he would not really be judged on his criminal background but more on his parenting abilities. They won’t let the caseworker go to Bio-Dad’s home because is it too dangerous, but will entertain the thought of handing him over a baby without considering the criminal record? Maybe I’m blinded by how much I love Malachi, but this sounded crazy to me. I was speechless. When I asked if he would be drug tested right away she said no. The only time they have a right to drug test a Bio-Parent is when they answer “yes” to the question “have you ever done any illegal drugs.” So if he says he has not done drugs he will not be tested.

I tried to move forward as normal as possible. I was on autopilot as I fed and bathed Malachi and did some math homework with Taryn. I knew it was time to give up when it took a pen and paper to figure out 50 x 100.  My mind was racing.  What if he’s ready to change his life around and be a good dad?  That’s good, right?  Except for the fact that it’s going to take at least a year for him to complete all of his requirements and by that point Malachi will be almost two-years-old. You can’t just remove a toddler from the only home they’ve ever known without some major backlash, right? It would be easier on him if they just took him now. But I don’t want to let him go. Would Bio-Dad be able to handle the crying? The constant attention? The lack of sleep? The eczema routine that goes on all day?  Would he read to him?  Would he take him on walks?  Because he loves to go on walks. Would he rock him the right way? Would he play with him on the floor? Would he sing to him?  My mind whirled for hours.

It was that during the last feeding of the night that I finally let it all out. Malachi was nestled in that sweet spot just under my left arm with his big fuzzy brown blanket between us and I looked down at him drinking his bottle. He was so tired that his eyes were struggling to stay open. I love him so much. How did I let myself love him this much? I mean, I told myself all along, from the very beginning, that I would never lose sight of the fact that he was not mine. I whispered to him as he finished his bottle, “I love you buddy, and I’m so sorry.” He doesn’t know what’s going on, he’s too busy being innocent.

After allowing myself a good cry, I sat down to text my cousin. I didn’t really like to discuss how I was really feeling with too many people, it’s just not in my nature to open up. Tracy was always good for some solid advice and comfort. It was in the middle of some mindless television-watching when she texted me back, “When the nurses were rushing me to the OR when I was in labor with Jonah, and he didn’t have a heartbeat, I said to my husband, God would not have let me carry this baby for 9 months to take him from us now. That’s how I feel about Malachi and your family. God put him with you, you passed on baby Mia, then Jason and the other boys just didn’t’ work out because Malachi was the baby for you, I have faith that’s where he’s supposed to be. It’s all going to work out.”

I am not a religious person, but I did believe what she texted. I did believe Malachi was supposed to be here. But the logical and oh-so-guarded side of me knows that if it’s indeed God who decides, He does let women carry babies for 9 months and take them in the end. He does take kids away from good families and put them somewhere else. Nothing made sense about any of this and mentally I was completely spent.

The weekend at my parent’s house in the Quad Cities was really good timing. With Daryl being in North Carolina at his seminar, the girls and I kept busy enough that I was able to successfully push back our pending nightmare enough to enjoy myself playing cards with cousins, having drinks with friends, visiting with my sister and nephews and enjoying time with my parents. When anyone asked me how it was going with Malachi, I explained to them the predicament with the most upbeat attitude I could muster. I despise the thought of people feeling sorry for me, I never have liked that “pity” feeling. It is just one of my many hang-ups! I only want people to think of me as strong and independent. Everyone said the same thing, “oh that’s just crazy, no Judge would ever give custody to someone with that record,” or “I just know it’s going to all work out in the end,” or “I’m so sorry that you have to go through all of this.” As I listened to them repeat to me the proper things to say (as if this is a common occurrence) I wondered how many of them wanted to actually say “what the hell did you expect? You openly asked for this.”

While enjoying a night out with friends on Friday night, I got lots of fun advice for the impending visit with Bio-Dad. One friend suggested giving Malachi prunes a couple of hours before the visit. Another one said that I should keep him up all night, over-feed him and give him a good pinch before I hand him over.

“Bio-Dad attempt #1”

Monday morning was pretty quiet. I was perplexed how to dress Malachi. Do I want him to look cute? Preppy? Sporty? I was obsessing over every little detail and then I got angry that I was wasting so much energy on what Bio-Dad would think. I ended up putting my little man in a pair of jeans and a plain green t-shirt. He is absolutely adorable in everything, so in the end it didn’t really matter. As I drove and Malachi took a quick nap I prayed out loud, “God, I know that you are really busy and have a lot going on but if you could give me an up-the-back blow-out poop from Malachi in about 30 minutes I would really appreciate it.” I opted not to pinch him before we went in.

We were downtown in record time, but it took 10 minutes to figure out where to park. It was a very industrial-like neighborhood with a nice park smack dab in the middle. It smelled like exhaust and flowers at the same time. I ejected Malachi from his seat and secured him in the stroller, draped the diaper bag over my shoulder and took one last deep breath before forcing my feet to move forward. I vowed that I would not, under any circumstances, let this man see me sweat (figuratively and literally). It took a minute to figure out how to call into the building and when they answered I could barely hear because of all of the trucks and buses going by. I heard the door click so I assumed it was safe to enter. The building was enormous and smelled musty and old. I wasn’t sure where to go but when I hoisted the stroller up the small incline I realized that the only thing in front of me was a fairly significant set of stairs with no elevator option. There goes the vow of not letting him see me sweat. I unstrapped the baby and positioned him on my hip so that I could use the other hand to carry the stroller and diaper bag. Half-way up the stairs a security guard came to help and guide me where to go. Suite B was right around the corner.

I signed in and waited for Kena. The waiting room was small and quiet. There was a conference room off one side with several people gathered around the table. I wondered what they were meeting about; which one of the thousands of children in the system were they discussing? Were they having an appeal meeting like they did when Jason’s grandmother fought for him? Or were they talking about finances and “visit requirements?” The receptionist called us back to a big room with approximately six big round tables and some kid’s toys. I thanked her and put the baby into a saucer jumper and he was immediately off and jumping.

Kena arrived promptly at 1:00. She greeted me with a hug and pulled out some papers. We made small talk and I shared what was new with the baby while she took notes. She is always taking notes. Whenever I am asked what superhero power I would choose if given the opportunity I always say to freeze time and people. This would be one of those times. I would twitch my nose and freeze her so I could see what she was writing.  She had a good poker face so I never truly knew what she was thinking or if she was just telling me what I wanted to hear. I trust her more than I have trusted anyone at this agency so far, but I know that she has to be protective and guarded with me as well.

I told her how Malachi was starting to mimic what I did, rock back and forth on his hands and knees, and finally, occasionally sleeping for three-to-five hour stretches. It was almost a pleading tone used when I told her what a happy baby he was. Even though I knew the thought was absurd, I wondered if she read between the lines like I wanted her to. I wanted her to write down that he was too happy where he was and it would be a travesty to move him anywhere.

It was 1:15 when we noticed how late Bio-Dad was. He had not called to say he would be late. Kena said that she spoke with him at 8:10 this morning and verified that he would be here at 1:00. She told me that I would be allowed to stay in the room for the first 15 minutes to fill him in on Malachi and his development, etc., but then I would have to leave the room for the remainder of the visit. I understood why, but still felt a twinge of anger. It’s so strange to raise this little being as your son for most of the week and then walk into a situation where you have to do as you’re told in regards his care. I briefly thought of trying to argue my case for remaining in the room, but decided it was fruitless and I should just trust her. It was 1:30 and Bio-Dad was still not there. At this point I noticed that all-too-familiar look on Malachi’s face and knew that God had answered my prayer!  A couple of grunts later and I smelled it!  Oh yeah, up the back poop, just as I requested! Karma chose this unique situation to remind me that “thou shalt not judge,” as I changed the stinky diaper.

Kena explained to me that she would call Bio-Dad, but he didn’t have a phone. The number she had for him belonged to one of his friends and she had to leave a message and wait for a call back. At 2:00 it was time to go. All of the stress, preparation and anxiety was for nothing. He didn’t even have the courtesy of showing up. Kena went on to say that she would have to make several attempts to reach him and reschedule, because in the end, she had to prove that she made every effort to bring him and Malachi together. He also had to have the “interview.” Kena assured me that she would document every time he didn’t show.

Even though I was angry as I left the agency, there was an extra pep in my step. I understood that he would have many more opportunities, but I still felt triumphant. He didn’t really want custody or he would have been there. There was no way in hell this man was going to complete any services. I felt like I could breathe again. Malachi fell asleep the instant I put him in the car seat and I turned my phone on to see seven texts and three missed calls.

Thinking about you a little extra today.”

“Are you there?  What is happening?”

“What’s going on?  How did it go?”

“Did you pinch him before you went in?  How did he react to Bio-Dad?”        

I called Daryl to fill him in, and then drove home in silence allowing myself to once again consider the fact that Malachi would one day be MY baby. I felt happy for the first time in weeks.

The happiness was short-lived. I pulled into the driveway at home and got a phone call from Kena. Bio-Dad did try to get to the meeting but he went to the wrong location. He was at the courthouse and not at the agency office. That all-too-familiar feeling of despair entered my body again. We would have to do this all again next week.

“Bio-Dad visit”

I arrived at the agency 15 minutes early and sat in the waiting room with Malachi, and once again, I was a ball of nerves. Not quite as nervous as last week but still sweating. Kena walked in at exactly 1:00 and I followed her into the conference room area. Within seconds, Bio-Dad was walking through that same door. He moved toward me with a huge smile on his face but stopped short, put his hands on his forehead and turned on his heels to avoid me seeing the tears in his eyes. He quickly turned back and said with a cracked voice “wow, this is my boy, my son.” The moment tugged at my heart strings and made me nauseous at the same time. Malachi was apprehensive but went to him without issue. Kena introduced me with “this is Mrs. Davis, the foster mother. She is here today just to fill you in on Malachi.”

I was immediately offended by her use of words. What’s wrong with saying “Mrs. Davis is here because she is the only mother Malachi has ever known and she is concerned that he might be scared,” or “Mrs. Davis has taken care of your son since he was 8-days-old and she loves him.”

Bio-Dad was about 5’10’’ and handsome. He had chocolate skin and strikingly crisp, deep-set brown eyes. His hair was in tiny braids and he was dressed in a short-sleeved pressed shirt, sneakers, and jeans that hung below his butt. He looked so young.

Kena and I sat down at the table while Bio-Dad continued to stand and stare at Malachi. Sweat beads were forming on his face and a couple of drops broke free and started to fall down his temple. I could relate. Kena got up and walked to the far end of the room and came back to hand him some tissues and gently said “for your sweat.” I had to do a double take… WHAT?  Let the man get his own damn tissues, he is a grown-ass man. Last week, when I was changing that up-the-back poop, trying to maneuver Malachi on a little bench while holding his feet still, balancing the diaper bag on my lap and looking for some assistance with what to do with the actual dirty diaper, she just looked at me. Here this man has a little bead of sweat roll down his face and she jumps up to get him a tissue?

Bio-Dad continued to comment on how big the baby was, “wow, look at this boy.  He is so big and strong.” He could not stop staring at him, nor could he control the undeniable grin on his face. I couldn’t help but stare at all of his tattoos, they were everywhere. On his hands, his fingers, his neck, his arms and let’s not forget the tear-drop tattoos underneath the eye. The one that made me the most curious was on the back of his hand that read “cheezus Jesus.” I later googled it to see what it meant, and basically all I could find was that it was an action figure sold by Pizza Hut. The definition made me more confused than I already was. I also googled the tear drop tattoo, and learned “it can signify that the wearer has killed someone or has spent time in prison; the wearer was raped while incarcerated and tattooed with a tear drop below the eye by the offending party and his accomplices, or it can acknowledge the loss of a family or fellow gang member.”

He smelled like the really strong cologne that is sprayed throughout the entire store of Abercrombie and Fitch and I immediately felt a headache coming on. I explain to Bio-Dad that Malachi was having a rough day because he was up a lot last night with a cold. I filled him in on the bronchial issues and the eczema and ask him if either of those run in his family. His answer was almost a whisper, “I don’t really know much about my family history.” Again, I softened toward him. I continued to fill him in on Malachi and his development, likes and dislikes. Any time there was a lull in the conversation I would nervously ask him if he had any questions for me. His answer was the same every time, “Nah, I just wanted to see him. I just wanted to see him. He is my first son.”

Kena asked me to leave the room so that she and Bio-Dad could talk. If I had a tail it would have been between my legs as I walked out of the room with my head down. I felt like a small child being asked to leave the room so mom and dad could talk about important stuff.

As I sat in the small waiting room I could see them through the glass doors.  Bio-Dad was holding my son, his son, with awe and wonder in his face. He was actually good with him, loving and affectionate. He knew how to hold him and was very comfortable maneuvering around the room with a baby in his arms.  He examined Malachi’s feet and then he placed him gently into the saucer-jumper carefully making sure that each leg went into the correct hole.

I couldn’t hear the words that were being said but the constant giddy laugh that was coming from Kena could be heard from the next building. She was smitten with Bio-Dad and that made me angry. Why would she be flirting with him? It was at this point that I convinced myself that she would do whatever it took to help him and recommend that he got custody of my son. I know it sounds ridiculous to come to this conclusion after 30 minutes of observation, but when you are in constant fear of your heart being broken into a thousand pieces, your mind doesn’t necessarily react normally. I made a decision in that waiting room, watching Malachi with his sperm donor, that I would no longer go out of my way to make anything easier for Kena. I felt betrayed yet again.

Bio-Dad gave Malachi a bottle and then they called me back into the room because he was getting fussy. As I walked into the room and caught the eye of my sweet baby boy, he smiled and got excited, waving his arms and jumping up and down with a big smile on his face. I picked him up for a quick snuggle and then asked Bio-Dad if he wanted to change a diaper before we left and he politely declined, “Nah, I think I’ll let you handle that.” Of course it ended up being an up-the-back poop!

Kena and Bio-Dad walked me to the door and he kissed Malachi good-bye. As I strolled down the sidewalk pushing my son I sighed loudly and felt so drained. I knew that if Bio-Dad did everything they told him to, he would get custody of my precious baby, and I didn’t know how to grasp the reality that this presented.

Then I waited again. I waited for a phone call to tell me what days I would have to present Malachi to weekly visits with Bio-Dad. I waited to see what his requirements were going to be and I waited to see if he would comply.  I waited to exhale.

“Next Time”

I tried really hard to live life around what our new normal was, but it was a challenge with all of the requirements, the fear and anxiety. I’ll tell you about some of those struggles next time.

Stephanie

IMG_5549

 

*Names have been changed

Chapter 12 – DNA testing

April 2013

Dear Judge,

You do not look at all how I pictured you. You’re younger than I imagined and actually kind of attractive sitting up there with your salt and pepper, balding hair and sparkling diamond earring. I didn’t expect that. According to Henry, you are a hard-nosed judge who likes to get the cases through and move on as soon as the evidence presents. However, Kena, our new case worker, claims you have a tendency to lean toward giving multiple chances and being really hard on the process and the case workers. We only met you for a brief moment before we were escorted back to the holding area outside the courtroom, but I wondered if you could pick up on the pleading I was willing you to sense. I didn’t get a chance to say anything beyond my introduction and that’s probably a good thing because I likely would have made a fool of myself. I wanted you to see that, even though I didn’t have to be there today, I would travel to the ends of the earth for this baby that you likely read about moments before you stepped up to your bench. I want you to remember this moment every time you see Malachi’s name come up on your docket and recall how much the woman standing before you loved this baby. But I know that today all you are doing is ordering paternity testing. I don’t even know what that means. If paternity is proven, will Malachi be taken away? Will Bio-Dad be required to take classes too? What if he has family who would step in and take over custody of my son? My stress level is at an all-time high. Obviously I have no idea what is going to happen, but in true Stephanie-form, I have to prepare for the worst possible scenario so that there is still potential for me to maintain full control of my emotions when it happens. Even though I am trying to brace myself for the worst, I am fully aware that, as we continue to travel down this road, we could happen upon a tornado at any moment and there is not a damn thing I could do about it.

There has been a flurry of activity over the past couple of months and I don’t know where to start. We had a new case worker visit the house and the licensing worker came for her first “home inspection.” We’ve had two more sibling visits and of course the DNA testing.

“Kena”

I picked up on a different vibe from Kena than I had with the other caseworkers. She was confident, and for the first time since we picked up our son, I felt like there was someone competent and ready to take charge of this case. She showed up at my home for our first visit with paperwork in order. I had been taking Malachi to daycare three days a week without the proper authorization because I had to start working more. I took him to the same woman who helped me when Taryn was little. Ms. Teresa had a home daycare that was licensed through the state and I knew that she would be approved as an acceptable provider, and I trusted her. Kena presented with the completed paperwork and it only required my signature. She did not rummage through my house or invade any personal space; she stuck to the case and the pertinent issues. She was also the first case worker who was comfortable giving me her opinion, which I appreciated. She did not think that the Judge would ever grant custody to Bio-Mom; however, she did believe that she would be given many chances. Kena said that if Bio-Mom was following through on at least 50% of her requirements, the judge would extend the goal to reunite the family. Then she added a caveat. With a tilted head, lifted brows and what felt like a warning inflection, she said “I have been wrong before. I have personally been shocked by a judge more than once when they chose to return a child to the home after a year or more, even though the agency advised against it.” When I began to grumble about the fact that the case hasn’t even officially begun in the eyes of the judge because we hadn’t had adjudication yet, she was stern in her response. She let me know that there are many moving parts with a case this large and before adjudication can be scheduled, they had to ensure that everything was “buttoned up.” They could not move forward with the pending Bio-Dad situation regarding Malachi and they still had to exhaust all efforts to involve the Bio-Dads who were listed on the other five birth certificates.

I also had some whining to do about the visits. In the past six weeks we have shown up twice to Bio-Mom but no Ms. Williams, and I reminded Kena that Henry does not want me to be the one supervising. Nor do I want to. I added my discontent with the fact that Bio-Mom is always late and we are expected to reschedule the visit or extend our time there and I didn’t feel like this was fair to us. I was perplexed by her explanation and again shocked at the way money trumps what’s in the best interest of the child. Kena told me that if a visit does not happen during the week, regardless of the reason, the agency cannot bill the State of Illinois for that hour. So, if Bio-Mom arrives late and we don’t complete the entire scheduled time, the agency doesn’t get money for it; therefore, as a rule, if the visit does not happen, it has to be rescheduled for the same week. All I could do was shake my head in disgust. This same rule holds true to the sibling visits. If we fail at coordinating four families and six children schedules, then the agency can’t bill it. That is not acceptable to them.

“Sibling Visits”

I hosted one more visit at my house and there was one at a McDonald’s on the south side. The one at our home was cut short when Angela started to get aggressive and the aide who brought them decided it was best to end early. We still signed off on four hours so that the full-time could be billed. Daryl was home for this event and met the kids for the first time. When Angela kept disappearing downstairs to try and turn on “Chuckie,” either Daryl, Cheryl or I would fetch her. When it was my dear husband’s turn he was met with a different response than Cheryl or I got. He took the remote control out of her hand and prompted her to come up the stairs. When she ignored him and he put his hand on her shoulder to guide her in the right direction, she began to scream “don’t touch me, don’t touch me.” He jumped back, hands in the air as if he had a gun held to his head and I came to his rescue when I heard the outcry. His face indicated his shock and he looked at me as if to say “what the hell just happened?” That was the last time Daryl tried to help with the other children at the sibling visits. The rest of the visit went the same as the others with Justin extremely emotional, Tameka squealing with delight at her “brudders” presence, Edward studying everyone and soaking it all in, and Jay being the sole focus of his three older siblings.

The next sibling visit was held at a McDonald’s on the south side of Chicago. I assumed that there would be a play area if we were expected to remain there for four hours with six (seven with Josie) children. I was wrong on that assumption. What were we going to do for four hours in a dirty, small and smelly McDonald’s? It was ridiculous. Edward and Justin were a no-show so we left a message with Kena’s voice mail and all departed after 90 minutes of torture. I had developed a few possible scenario’s in my mind as to why Angela behaved the way she did with my husband, but her behavior at this McDonald’s was completely erasing those thoughts. She was very friendly and flirty with every man that she could get in front of. She would sashay over to them, bend down at the table where they were eating with her hips tilted to the side and a for-real bat of her eyelashes say, “Hello, how are you?” We pulled her away each time as quickly as we could and made a note to ensure Kena was aware of this behavior.

“Lana”

My first licensing visit was the first time I realized that, as foster parents, we really are viewed as babysitters. Lana was a very friendly lady with such stunning blue eyes that I suspected they were tinted contact lenses. She was tall, thin and had a shaved head with perfect accessories to match her clothing. She was like a fashion plate. Before she sat down she pulled a sheet of paper and pen out of her stylish briefcase and said “okay, let’s tour.” She checked the smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors that had to be on every floor. She counted the windows in the bedroom, opened the drawers of Malachi’s dresser and asked for the dimensions of the room itself. She peeked in the closets that we kept the medicine and cleaning supplies in. I felt like she was my parent and I was the child who just finished doing my chores. When we sat down at the dining room table she pulled out a packet of paperwork that was so thick I felt like I was at a mortgage closing. Then the questions began.

“What do you feed him? Do you have a fire escape plan? Do you have any space heaters? A pool? Any pets? Does he ever sleep with you in your bed? I need a copy of your car insurance and driver’s license. Do you keep him on a schedule? Have you or anyone in the home done any illegal drugs? Do you drink? How much? Do you smoke? Does anyone outside the home watch him and have you provided their Social Security numbers to the agency? Do you put his picture on social media? You cannot put his picture on social media. Do you discuss the case with anyone outside of your home? You cannot discuss the specifics of this case with anyone outside the home. Do you keep the medication log? You cannot even give him Tylenol without logging the time, date and dosage and for what reason.”

It went on and on with the most trivial questions you could imagine. I wondered if anyone actually follows all of these rules. After I initialed several pages and signed the document, Lana stood up and shook my hand, thanked me for taking great care of Malachi and gave me some of her cards in case I knew of anyone who would be interested in becoming foster parents. She explained that the licensing visits would be quarterly and she would call to schedule the next one later.

“Paternity DNA court hearing”

It was Tuesday, April 16th when Daryl and I drove downtown to the Cook County Juvenile court building to lay eyes on two potential Bio-Dads. After entering the intimidating large building and getting through security we made our way to the courtroom that Howard had given me. The waiting area outside the courtroom reminded me of the schoolhouse on “Little House on the Prairie.” There was a center aisle with approximately six rows of seats on either side. When we sat down we only noticed one other person present. He looked to be in his late teens and he was sitting in the front right corner with his knees pulled up to his chest while sucking his thumb. Clearly this wasn’t one of the potential Bio-Dads, but what was he doing there? He was dressed nicely but never actually turned fully to look at us when we sat down. Kena arrived next and confirmed that the young man was indeed one of the potential Bio-Dad’s. He was a 19-year-old thumb-sucker and could potentially be my “baby daddy.” Daryl and I exchanged a glance of “WOW.”

Bio-Mom came next and she was on her cell phone leaving a message for who I assumed was potential #2. She was pleading, “please come, its courtroom number 2L.” She sat down without acknowledging us or the quiet young man sucking away in the corner, and kept glancing back toward the entrance to see who was walking in.

He finally strolled in just moments before we were called into the courtroom. He sat three rows behind Bio-Mom and when she turned into a giddy school girl and went to sit next to him, he completely ignored her, rolled his eyes and moved to another seat. The first stereotypical word that jumped into my head was “thug.” His pants were belted below his butt with a button-up shirt that was just long enough to show about an inch of his boxers. The pants were so low I wondered how he displayed such stagger in his walk without falling forward. The second thing that I noticed were two tear drop tattoo’s below his eye. I knew that this symbol was significant of a gang member, but couldn’t remember what it was supposed to mean. His hair was in dreadlocks that were nearing the end of their life and his skin was a deep brown. He was not a bad-looking kid if you could get past the tattoos everywhere and the fact that he looked as if he literally just rolled out of bed.

We were all ushered into the courtroom and I realized this was the first time I have EVER been in a courtroom. It looked just like the set of “Night Court” with the Judge sitting up higher than everyone else. There was a witness-box to his left with a court stenographer placed just below him. We sat in the last of three spectator rows and just in front of the viewing area were two desks on either side. Henry sat at the desk on the left and a man I assume was Bio-Mom’s attorney sat at the one on the right. It was extremely disappointing when, after introductions, we were asked to leave the room. I have no idea what was said in the courtroom that day, but I knew that I had to bring Malachi back within the next two weeks to get his DNA tested.

We waited outside the courtroom wondering if one of these young men were indeed Malachi’s father. Waiting out the next however many weeks was going to be torturous. Henry and Kena both think that the tests will come back negative considering the amount of people she had brought forward as family. However, I had a gut-feeling that one of them was Malachi’s Bio-Dad and it scared me to my core. The thumb-sucker seemed to have the same bumpy-shaped head as Malachi, but droopy-pants had the same skin color. That was all we could come up with.

Prospect #1 walked out first and Daryl followed behind him as he quickly tried to exit and said “excuse me, I am Daryl Davis and I am Malachi’s foster-dad. I just wanted to meet you, shake your hand and let you know what kind of man is looking after your son if it proves that you are indeed his father.” Thumb sucker just looked at him blankly and said “okay.”

Prospect #2 exited next and went straight to sit down. Daryl approached him with the same introduction and hand shake. He did not stand or shake his hand at first, he just shook his head as if to say, “this girl is crazy,” pointed over his shoulder to Bio-Mom, and said “this is all her fault.” Daryl’s response was, “It doesn’t matter whose fault it is. As a father, I would want to know who was taking care of my child, so I wanted to make sure we met.” The tattoo-stained young man stayed seated and said “thanks.”

It was just three-days later that I took Malachi to the same courthouse and had the inside of his mouth swabbed for his DNA.

“Next Time”

I would like to say it was nice to meet you Judge, but nothing about this particular obstacle has been nice. I wonder if sometimes you think about your cases beyond what you see in the manila folder in front of you. I wondered if you picked up on my telepathic message. It turns out that my gut was right and one of the young men we saw in court that day was indeed my “baby daddy.” I’ll tell you about it next time.

Stephanie

Heartbreaker

*Names have been changed