This is the second in a multi-part post I have been developing. You can read Part I here, although it doesn’t exactly feel like this one. My thoughts on the two posts are related, but I’m still figuring out how.
If I were keeping to my new, rigorous schedule, I would be sleeping already. Rebel that I am, I’m typing away on my phone in bed instead. Like a teenager getting away with breaking the rules… My own self-imposed rules.
We sat at a picnic table in the park. Across from us, the decision makers. Next to me, he waited to hear what they had to say. He broke the rules. Would it cost him a home? I waited to see if my son would still be mine, or if he would be lost in a system.
“We want him to stay with you,” the decision maker smiled. I pulled my child close to me and whispered something loving in his ear. He smiled with relief. He was finally home.
I can hardly believe that I had a dream about adoption. I haven’t dreamt of babies or being pregnant for over a year, but I’ve never [literally] dreamed of adopting.
We went to my 92-year old great grandmother’s Christmas party last night. The house was full of second and third cousins, and cousins my grandparents adopted into our family when they were pastors. Family that’s always been family without a need for blood relationship.
Life shows no signs of slowing down. My stress level seems to be at a new constant. I refuse to let the river overtake me. I signed up for this madness, so I am adapting. I am building a raft. The raft sounds boring and safe, but it’s going to keep me afloat. It’s made up of “bed by 10:00 on any night I’m not doing homework” and “accept every opportunity to spend time with friends and family”. I am not going to allow this life to alienate me from the people I love, so if it means I work and do homework for 16 hours on most days, I will do it.
Something’s happened. It seems overnight I’ve bonded with the baby of our little family. She’s been going to coffee shops and the french bakery with me when I need some uninterrupted time away from the house to do homework. She sits quietly and sips hot chocolate and reads a book while I study. Both the girls are engrossed with the Warriors series. With their cat obsession, I’m surprised it didn’t start sooner. They were a bit tied up with Harry Potter for awhile I guess.
But something is definitely different. I’ve been trying to put my finger on what might have happened, then I realized something did happen last weekend. We were at church talking to a friend of mine who’s had the girls over to spend the night a couple times and we started talking about last Christmas when she invited the girls to help decorate at her house. The baby piped up: “Yeah, [Mama Spike] made us choose between going to your house and going to the last movie night of the year at school. We were only allowed to do one, even though nothing else was going on.” She looked at me with a big smile like she’d just told on me. I then reminded her that she was actually grounded that week. She was only allowed to do one, but she shouldn’t have been allowed to do either.
Later when just the two of us were in the car together I told her that her comment really hurt my feelings. I explained the last several months have been hard for me because I’ve been accused of being mean and selfish and not having the girls’ best interests at heart. (Of all the people we know, only three people are against us having Legal Guardianship, but the comments from those three have been hard on me.) I was careful to tell her that I didn’t believe it was her fault and I was able to handle it. I am very conscious about maintaining emotional boundaries with both the girls, as in “These are the feelings people have that you’re responsible for, and these are not.” I explained to her that it hurt me to hear that people thought I was mean. It hurt me to hear that she thought I was mean too.
She said she had forgotten that she was grounded that week and asked if she could apologize. My heart melted. Her stubbornness has made her a challenge since early on, but after two years I finally feel her softening. This past week she’s run to hug me when I get home from work. She’s asked me what I think of her drawings. She’s politely asked permission to go on the internet and play video games and make tea. She lets me hug her without pulling away right away. One night she even asked if I would snuggle with her before bed. We’ve done that several times, but this was the first time she knocked on my bedroom door to ask.
With her sister growing up so fast, I feel like I need to savor every little girl moment. I tell the baby all the time that she’s a strong, natural leader. A lot of my parenting her so far has nurtured those things, but now I think we’re transitioning into a more compassionate relationship. She’s lonely without her sister at the same school as her. She’s an introvert and doesn’t like change. She doesn’t like to meet new people like her sister does. She would rather read in the library. I’m a little anxious about her being a bookworm, but school just started a couple weeks ago. I told myself I’d give her some time to adjust and not push her to make new friends right away.
That one has to make changes on her terms. She won’t have it any other way.
It’s a common thing for people to say, but what they don’t tell you is that it can all happen in a matter of two weeks! Our older goddaughter is 12 now. She started junior high on August 24th, and announced her list of boys “crushing on her” three days later. She got her first visit from Aunt Flo (TMI probably, but it’s a major milestone in a girl’s life!) on August 30th, and I took her out to dinner that night to celebrate.
We talked that night about the kids she met during her first week at school and the boys that like her. I asked her if she like anyone, and she said no, but I kept the conversation going. “So what happens when a boy likes you and you like him?” Standard, pre-teen answer: “I don’t know.”
“Well, what would you want to happen?”
“I don’t know. We get together?”
“And then what?”
“I don’t know. Go to Jamba Juice?”
“And then what?”
“I don’t know. This is embarrassing.”
I remember being boy crazy at 12, but there wasn’t a lot of reciprocity. There were only eight kids in my class at a small, K-8, private, Christian school. By the time we had hormones, we’d spent so much time together we were more like siblings. I didn’t go to my first dance until freshman homecoming. In contrast, our 12-year-old is in a school of 1,000 kids her age. It’s glaringly different from the time I spent in junior high.
We bought her a new dress for her first dance this past Thursday and summarily denied her permission to post videos from the dance on YouTube that night. She got in trouble for being home late the next day (it was only a few minutes, but it was the first time we let her go alone) from a neighbor’s house, and later we found out she was there without any adults. Consequently, she’s not allowed to go over there for a week.
Side note: Why the hell are parents allowing their 11 and 12-year-olds to be on social media sites!? The EULAs for all the majors – Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc. – say kids under 13 are not allowed because they’re unable to comply with the COPPA laws! Keep your freakin’ kids off the internet until they’re older! We in our 30s forget those things weren’t available until we were in high school. We had MySpace and Yahoo and MSN instant messengers, but we couldn’t tag a picture of ourselves in a specific location for any creeper to find us! It took some effort then. Now it’s stupid-easy! There are 50,000 predators online looking for easy targets (Child Rescue Network).
I bought the girls The Care and Keeping of You last summer and reading through it was a lifesaver when it came to talking to them about important care-taking topics. There’s a second, more sensitive, advanced book that I’ve decided to walk through with our 12-year-old, and all I can do is pray for the wisdom to keep the conversation easy, open, and honest. Her sister is only 16 months younger. Between social media and the polarization of genders in the last 20 years, creating a paradigm of freedom and expression is going to be the crowning achievement of raising these girls. There are too many ways to keep secrets and feel ashamed. They have to be able to talk to me about things they see and hear and experience. And I have to be able to shepherd them.
I’m not allowed to be a bad parent.
That’s another thing they don’t tell Foster parents and Legal Guardians. Bio parents are allowed to screw up themselves and their kids and people just say, “It’s hard to be a parent.” But if you’re raising someone else’s kids, you have a to be a pro. It’s like being an estate manager. You’re allowed to go bankrupt if it’s your house, and people say, “Times are tough.” But if you fail to properly steward someone else’s assets, you can be charged with criminal intent!
Asking questions seems to be the most effective method way to parent. I wanted to send her to a nunnery at dinner last week when she answered, “I don’t know. We get together?” I think I stayed cool. I asked her again yesterday about what happens when a boy likes her and she likes him, and I got the same response:
“I don’t know.”
“It’s okay if you don’t want to talk about it right now – if you feel like it’s embarrassing. But if you’re not ready to talk about it, then you’re probably not ready to ‘get together’ with anyone and start dating.”
All the while I’m thinking, “Oh dear God, why am I talking to my 12-year-old about dating!? How did this happen!? She was a baby… yesterday! Now I’m explaining hormones and personal hygiene when you’re on your period and why we’re going to wait a while to use tampons. And I have to talk about it like it’s the most natural thing. She has to know that it’s normal. She has to not be ashamed of talking about it. How the hell do I do this!? What words do I use? The world is changed and I have to protect her, but how much do I say? She’s just a child!”
But she isn’t anymore. Is she?
Do you ever feel like you’re wandering on the edge of a revelation; as if you’re about to discover some great nugget of wisdom? I’ve felt this way before, but not for so many consecutive days. It’s usually just a few moments in the midst of studying.
I’m uncomfortable with existing in this state. It feels like catching the scent of bread baking and not remembering when I put the loaf in the oven. How long has it been in there? Is it almost ready? How will I know when to take it out? It smells wonderful, but am I about to let it burn?
If I meditate on the surrounding subject, will I discover what’s behind this feeling, or will it disappear and pretend it never existed? Will I find that the wisdom I hoped to find was really just indigestion?
“Their lives are better now,” sounds so arrogant. Is it true in the ways it matters? Empirically, yes. Is it true in the ways I hoped for my children?
I didn’t have nine months to dream dreams for them. I’ve never had the space to do that. We’ve been surviving through the months, fighting off dragons, but the fulfilled life I hoped for my children… I haven’t given them that.
I’ve given them security and safety and guidance, but not my dreams… Not enough. They’re children, and I’m their guardian. How can I let them flourish without my dreams for them?
This is what comes from being guarded. I didn’t even realize I was holding back. Their stars are changing, but what constellation will they live under?
“Based on the information provided and the information obtained, it appears at this time it is in the best interest of the children to remain in the care of Ms. and Mr. [Spike] and the guardianship be granted.”
The Investigator’s Report to Court is in black and white and sitting on my desk. I’ve been staring at the last sentence most of the evening, and I’m still exhaling. The court will make their decision based on that official recommendation. Until now we have only been able to hope and pray the investigators would see through the lies and truly see what’s going on.
They saw it. Thank God. Twelve more days until our next hearing, but they can pass in peace. The girls will be safe. They’ll be with us.
“When you are appointed by the court as a guardian of a minor, you become an officer of the court and assume certain duties and obligations… If the probate court appoints you as a guardian of the person for a child, you will be required to assume important duties and obligations…
The guardian of the person of a child has the care, custody, and control of the child. As guardian, you are responsible for food, clothing, shelter, education, and all the medical and dental needs of the child. You must provide for the safety, protection, and physical and emotional growth of the child.
“As guardian… you have full legal and physical custody of the child and are responsible for all decisions relating to the child. The child’s parents can no longer make decisions for the child while there is a guardianship. The parents’ rights are suspended – not terminated – as long as a guardian is appointed for a minor…”
Duties of Guardian, Superior Court of California
If the judge signs the order, we will have the official papers in less than two weeks. I’m surprised how shocked I am at that reality. I knew I was guarding myself against the worse-case scenario, but now I can feel just how guarded I was. The weights are slowly coming off my shoulders, but I still feel vigilant.
Their dad has a history of violence involving weapons, even guns. He’s a coward and a liar, but he’s dangerous. And we’ve just beat him at “the war” he started. God help us.
May 19th is over. The judge approved the continuance, so I have a new date to wait for. June 30th. We were granted Temporary Guardianship until then. As promised in his barrage of harassing text messages over the last few weeks, the girls’ dad was there. It’s standard procedure for the judge to order visitation, but without a completed report she limited it considerably, thankfully. She told us to let him see the girls for one hour this afternoon.
I felt terrible springing the surprise visit on the girls right after they got out of school, but they took it in stride. We met him and his tag-along girlfriend (New Mommy choice) at a public place. Neither of them looked at us or spoke a word to us all day. We have housed and tutored and spoiled and loved those girls like our own children for two years, and he pretended we were invisible. Better than engaging in a fight, I guess, but really? In my mind, not looking someone in the eye just screams shame and guilt and cowardice.
One hour. Before we got there I told the girls if they were uncomfortable they could let me know by asking if I could get them some french fries. We sat in the booth next to theirs for one hour and listened to low voices. Thankfully, they were okay. No requests for french fries. I periodically poked my head around the corner to let the younger one know I was still right there.
The girls told me after that he told them a “funny” story about one time when the neighbor kids decided it would be fun to throw kitchen knives at a board on the floor. Then the game escalated and they thought it would be funny to throw knives at each other. Hysterical. “Where [the hell!] were the parents?” I asked one of the girls who was laughing, retelling the story. “Oh, they were drinking beer in the next room.”
You don’t have to have maternal feelings to see how screwed up that is. First, that he would tell them of that story as part of the “good ol’ days.” Second, that he encouraged the girls to think it was funny. Thirdly… do I need a third point? Every protective bone in my body is screaming.
Their mom, who we have a signed, private custody agreement with, said he was very harsh with them when they were little, which caused a lot of their early fights. “He would say or do something and I’d say no and stop it, then… yeah.” Her words.
She ran away from him once with the kids and he tracked her down by filing a bogus protection order. He knew that the court would require her to be personally served, so he gave the sheriff the address of a friend who knew where she was. The friend gave the address to the sheriff, and the proof of service that the asshole got back had the address where she was living, the battered women’s shelter. She was supposed to be safe there.
These are only a few examples of the dozens of stories I’ve heard about him over the years. Every fiber of my being says, “No! Stay away. You’re a liability. You abandoned them, by every legal and moral definition of the word. You should not be allowed to raise them just because your pride is hurt.” He had absolutely no expressed interest in having the girls live with him until he found out that we were seeking Legal Guardianship. Now suddenly he’s “Father of the Year,” come to right every wrong of the past by harassing the tar out of us, the court, and anyone else who might not agree with him.
He doesn’t understand that he’s only hurting everyone involved. The girls are happy, content, healthy, safe. They’re getting a stellar education. Both of them talk about going to college.
IN a 2010 study by researchers at the University of Chicago, only 6 percent of former foster youths had earned a two- or four-year degree by age 24. Those not in college may be in jail; 34 percent who had left foster care at age 17 or 18 reported being arrested by age 19. (New York Times, 2013)
Their dad checked himself into a mental hospital four years ago, told the staff there that the girls’ mother was dead, and he didn’t have any friends the girls could stay with while he was in a psyche hold. The truth was that he had filed another bogus, emergency police report to have their mother forcibly removed from the house two months prior, and Spike, his only friend, lived ten minutes down the road.
The girls went into foster care. After having multiple “no contact” orders issued against him for harassing the case workers, the foster parents, and the social workers, their dad moved across the country with a new girlfriend. Spike helped their mom find a place to live and get back on her feet. And she got them out of foster care.
Who the hell lets that happen to their children and still, four years later, doesn’t see how horrifying it was?
This is an ugly business. And I’m not an ugly person. God, show me justice. Please.
Do you ever feel like you’re bleeding all over everyone?
I’m anxious about tomorrow. I’m desperately trying not to be, but the desperation is coming out in casually conversing with people about what we’re be up against. It’s not helping. I’m trying to make light of an issue that isn’t light. It isn’t casual. As soon as the gravity of the situation hits them, I watch them back-pedal, stop listening, and try to end the conversation.
“Oh, sorry! Did I get blood on your shoes? Sorry, let me see if I can clean that up for you. I can’t believe I bled on you. That’s so inconsiderate!”
Clearly, I need an outlet, and the world around me is proving to be a pathetic sounding board. I don’t know where to start, or if this is the right place, but I’ll be at the courthouse in less than twelve hours, and there are many many unknowns. I keep telling myself not to worry about tomorrow. It will bring enough trouble of its own. But I keep thinking there’s something I might be able to prepare for.
I’ve filed all the paperwork. I’ve got all my copies ready to go. I even have court clothes picked out. Check. Check. Check! I’ve been working toward this day since last summer, and the most disheartening thing is that it won’t be over tomorrow. We might sit in the waiting room all. day. long. just to hear what we already know: the court investigator has filed a motion for a continuance.
We’re not related to the girls. Their parents live in two different states and have only had a half-dozen points of contacts with the girls in the last two years. Their father is a menace. Their mother has a hard time following-through. It’s complicated. A social worker was assigned to the case two weeks ago to complete the investigation and give their recommendation to the court. Social workers are busy. No surprise there. The investigation isn’t done. They haven’t even called us yet.
This level of stress doesn’t get a resolution tomorrow. It gets a pat on the head and told to keep waiting.
How the hell am I supposed to sleep?
“Praying that the court does what’s best for the girls.” It sounds encouraging doesn’t it? But when it’s delivered to me from a friend, it really feels under-handed. Her three natural-born children are sleeping soundly in their beds. No one is fighting to take them from her. She doesn’t know what this is like. She doesn’t understand what it feels like to have to convince a court of law that you’re a better parent than someone else. It’s not an argument I ever thought I’d be in, especially not with someone I’ve been trying to avoid since I was eleven years old.
I knew the girls’ dad when I was a kid. I kept my distance. Even then I knew his kind of instability was not something I wanted to be around. Talk about bleeding all over people. His insecurities and issues were out for the world to see at a very early age. My friends steered clear too, and now no one will listen to him. No one will take him seriously. No one will stand up for him. No one believes he’s right to fight us on this, not even his own mother.
She will be at the hearing tomorrow too. One, big, happy, dysfunctional, volatile family. God help us.