Finally the hearing day came. I woke up early like I do when I’m nervous about something. I resolve my nerves by putting things in order, like unloading the dishwasher and packing the diaper bag. Soon enough the children woke up for school and the busy-ness of morning diverted my attention until everyone was on their way to where ever they had to go. Then I showered and prepared myself. I dressed for success that day. Not because I had anyone to impress, but because it increased my own confidence. I wanted to look like an experienced and knowledgeable foster parent when I was testifying on the stand. Impressions count in court.
My husband and I arrived at the courthouse and found seats in the court room. Already the assortment of attorneys were gathering at long heavy oak tables standing near the front of the room facing the judges seat. I can only imagine the things that these tables have been witness to. Hearings and trials and high emotions. Fear, sadness, relief, maybe even joy. Like on a day that an adoption would be finalized or a civil marriage ceremony took place here. Today though the tables will witness power, control, nervous testimony and even the unexpected.
Everyone rose when the presiding judge entered the court room. I like the Juvenile Court Judge. He perfectly fits my perception of a very wise man. He is of average height with a slightly full build. He’s earned his white hair throughout the years of his bench sitting. The stories he’s listened to. The decisions he’s made. None of it can be easy. Yet he has remained for many years. This is a judge that cares about people and their outcomes.
The lawyers began their role calls, moving around the room one response after another for each individual question posed by the judge. Finally the Department of Human Services called their first witness. Each person who testified, gave their version of the facts and impressions and judgements. Then each of the attorneys had a chance to ask questions to contort what had been said in their clients’ favor. It really seems as if no one cares what the real truth is.
The real truth is that Hilary and Steve came from unfortunate circumstances and had found each other to manage life with. Until they couldn’t manage. And their family slowly and methodically ripped to shreds until there was no more family.
As the social worker on the stand began to testify it wasn’t long before I realized things were taking an entirely different route than the one on the map. It had been discussed that the paternal grandparents would adopt Maggie. That’s what all of the lengthy visitations had been for. To prepare them for parenting full-time. But that wasn’t the purpose at all. Much to my dismay and their horror, they were being shredded too.
“You have candle sconces and houseplants in your home that are hazards to toddlers.” It was cited as a safety issue. (Seriously! I have both of these too. And they’ve never said a word about it during the many inspections we had to pass for our foster care license. And you’d think that would have been addressed in their private home study.) My antennae were pinging. Something about this makes no sense to me.
That’s when they called me to the stand. I rose from my seat and took a deep breath as I passed by the row of heavy oak tables. I stopped and raised my right hand. I smiled at the judge as I sat down on the stand. He smiled back.
Let the questions begin! And they did. They started right from the beginning with my log entries. But onlyfrom Maggie’s log. They asked questions about he pick up and drop off times for Maggie’s visits, were the grandparents always timely; and what about the time when they returned from a visit with a pair of Maggie’s wet panties in a plastic bag.
As these silly questions were being asked, I realized what they were trying to get me to do. They wanted my log entries to incriminate the grandparents as being bad parents. Thus making them unacceptable to adopt Maggie. In that moment, I made a decision. And even before I could think it through, I turned toward the judge at my right, and said,
“Your honor may I speak?”
He said yes… so I spoke.
“Your honor I’m a divorced parent and not once in the ten years that my children have been going for visitation with their dad have their clothes ever come back clean.” Furthermore, Maggie is two and a half. She’s potty training. Accidents happen.”
I heard the attorney for the grandparents talking at their table but I couldn’t hear what they were saying. The social worker for the Department of Human Services was glaring at me. They had no further questions for me.
As I left the stand and walked past the heavy oak tables, the grandparent’s attorney gave me a high-five. I didn’t realize the full scope of what my responses had done until the hearing was over.
None the less, the grandparents were still not found to be acceptable adoptive parents for Maggie.