Friday morning, my parents and I drove from IL to OK for an event, leaving Scott with all four kids on his own with no back up for four days. He did splendidly.
I spent the weekend at various social engagements with people who follow our life online but only see us a couple times a year, so I found myself having the same conversation over and over again. Everyone’s first question at this point is “So are you going to get to keep the girls?”
After showing them a few pictures without stickers over the girls’ faces, I launched into the small talk version of what fostering looks like in our home. The answer to that question—is adoption on the horizon—is that we don’t know. We just don’t. There is no guarantee of anything, and we still have to operate from an unknown space. We did sign the official papers of intent to adopt, so from a legal standpoint, the court knows that we are willing to do so if given the opportunity.
Here’s what we do know right now. A legal screening will be filed this week. That is the paperwork that starts the termination (of parental rights) process. There are two basic possible outcomes. 1) The court can decide to terminate based on this paperwork. 2) The court can decide to defer the case giving the parents more time to work on their service plans.
Based on what is happening with the girls’ parents and on precedent we have observed in other cases, we don’t believe their rights will be terminated at this time. A deferral would mean adding several more months to the case with another assessment at a later time. There is always a possibility that the parents would surrender, but that has to be a choice they make.
We have an administrative case review in December and a court date in January. Our job as foster parents is to continue to provide the best care possible for the girls and to make sure that we provide information needed by the case worker, the lawyers, and the judge. One day at a time continues to be our mantra.
So those are the nuts and bolts, but here is the human side of things—the part where foster kids and bio parents have names and faces and life stories. In August, the girls’ mom asked if we could start communicating regularly. There’s a certain amount of trust that needs to be built on all sides to give out personal information and phone numbers and such, so the case worker, Scott, and I agreed that starting with an email address was the best first step.
We emailed for several weeks. This gave me the opportunity to share stories and pictures of the girls with their mom on a regular basis. I could email her directly instead of sending information through our case worker or case assistant. It allowed her to do the same. At one point in the process, she asked if she could have my phone number, and after talking to Scott and laying some ground rules, I agreed.
Since then, we have been texting, and it has been a great experience for everyone involved. She has very little support from the people in her life, so when she asked me to take her to the drug treatment facility last week, so she could enroll in a new program, I did. When she asked me to pick her up the next day, I was happy to spend some time with her over lunch before taking her back to her uncle’s house where she’s currently living.
Our lunch together provided some much needed time to talk about how we are on the same team. We shared some of our frustrations with the process, and we asked each other questions about our lives outside of this case. I used that opportunity to tell her that we care deeply about her—that we want her to work on being her best self no matter the outcome of this case. I also told her that I hope she trusts us enough to allow us to still be a part of the girls’ lives if they return home. I reassured her that if they stay with us, we want them to know where they came from. The conversation was healing for me, and I pray that it was for her too.
My friend, Jody, has become semi-famous in adoption circles for a quote about adopting her children from Sierra Leone. Jody said, “A child born to another woman calls me mommy. The magnitude of that tragedy and the depth of that privilege are not lost on me.”
I’ve thought of this one million times since the girls came to live with us. The weight of her words is even heavier now that the girls’ mom and I have been communicating.
We want to adopt these girls. We have signed paperwork proclaiming our legal intent to do so. Adding them to our family would be one of the greatest joys imaginable. They are the love and light and mischief that makes our house a home right now. We love them. Immeasurably.
We are also acutely aware that by adopting them—our greatest joy will contribute directly to their mother’s great sorrow. Yes, she has made mistakes. Yes, there are all kinds of reasons she is in the position she’s in. Yes. Of course.
But please, when you ask me if we want to adopt these girls, know that when I say “yes,” I hesitate for a split second for the pain that comes with the pleasure.
I often have people close to the situation say to me, “I don’t know how you do it, but you were definitely made for this.” And my response every time is that I am learning every day to hold joy in one hand and suffering in the other. This is not either/or. It’s both/and. And when someone says she doesn’t think she could do it or doesn’t know how I do it, my response is—this is the challenge of living with human beings. Every time we choose to open our hearts to another person, we are choosing to embrace both joy and suffering.
We don’t know how this case is going to play out, and there is nothing we can do at this point to influence the outcome. But we do know that tomorrow will bring both pleasure and pain. My prayer is not for freedom from life’s reality but for gratitude for the good and strength for the bad—for me, for my family, for our friends who walk beside us daily, and for the girls’ mom whose pain is so much deeper than mine will ever be.
11 months down.