“Taxi!” That’s how they do it in the movies. A guy steps into the street with purpose and conviction, waves a hand in the air, and a cab pulls up, the man steps into the cab. It’s an elegantly choreographed scene that ends with the man casually looking out the window as the cab motors past Central Park.
Not so on the streets of San Francisco. You spot cabs all over the place, but drivers have their eyes fixed on a far-away horizon, and ignore you as you jump up and down waving your arms. If you call the easy-to-remember number, it takes forty-five minutes for the cab to get there. At least that’s the kind of luck I had the day I had to get across town to the Mission District for a meeting at Family and Children’s Services (FCS). An FCS social worker has visited Charity and Allie shortly after intake. This meeting was mandatory for Charity. I wanted to go to support her.
My cab driver was a happy guy and made me smile. He was a large man whose massive frame over time had crushed a depression into the seat the shape of the driver’s body. He didn’t bother with a seat belt, not that it would have helped. I plopped down in the front seat and was trying to puzzle through how my safety belt functioned in its state of dilapidation as I handed him the address for FCS. I buckled in tight as he gunned the cab into traffic narrowly missing a street car. I looked for a way to brace for sudden impact, he started talking to me.
“Man, what’s your name?”
“Bryon,” I said.
“Bryon, check this out. I was on my way into the depot this morning, coming in from Daly City, right?”
“Uh-huh,” I said, leaning back into the beat up passenger seat. A piece of masking tape used to patch a tear, softened into tacky goo by the sun, was sticking to my pant leg. As I peeled it off and stashed it under the seat with soda cups and McDonald’s containers, he continued telling his story.
“I wasn’t really paying attention, right?” he said, “and I drove into the back of a car at the light. That’s how I got one of those dents in my bumper — the new one.”
Oh, great, I thought. All I want to do is get to the meeting in one piece.
“Yo! The driver got out to come talk to me and he was a dwarf! No lie!”
He was really excited and had my full attention.
“The little guy says, ‘I’m not happy.’ And I say, ‘Which one are you?””
We both started belly laughing. He was in tears. “Bro! I was just kidding!” he said.
“Yeah, I get the Snow White thing you just did. Good one!” I said. “I really needed that.”
We were still laughing when he pulled up to the curb at my stop.
I walked into the building, smiling for the first time in a few days. FCS shared the office building with other state and local government agencies. I was a little early for my appointment. The mood changed as a secretary ushered me to an empty meeting room and seated me at a conference table. I was the first one to arrive. I was nervous about the meeting with Family and Children’s Services, so I was glad I laughed and thankful for the time to gather my thoughts.
Deciding the future
After about five minutes, Charity arrived. She entered the room slowly, looking confused and tired. She sat down in the chair next to me. Her shoulders were hunched, and she wrapped her arms around her body like she was cold. I put my arm around her, and she leaned into me for a quick side-hug. A new wave of sadness came over me. This was the most serious meeting my daughter had ever attended in her life, and neither of us knew what to expect.
Within a minute or so, three women from FCS joined us, including the social worker that first met with Charity at the hospital. One of the women shook my hand and introduced herself as the director of FCS. They knew what to expect. They sat down, put legal pads and folders on the table, and got right to business. The agenda of the meeting was set.
The director informed Charity of her intention to recommend to a family court judge that her parental rights be suspended until she went through parenting programs. The goal was to reunite her with Allie, but, in the meantime, Charity’s parental rights were temporarily transferred to FCS. This would be made official in family court as soon as the case went before a judge. She would not be charged with any crime, the director assured her, but it was decided that she was not equipped to provide the care Allie would need if and when she is released from the hospital.
The director emphasized that programs would be offered to train her to care for Allie. Other services to assist with Allie’s care would be provided, as well. They said that the best plan was to reunite mother and child as a long-term goal rather than have Allie enter the foster care system permanently.
“I would prefer that Allie go to permanently live with my parents in Florida,” Charity said.
“You’re not in a position to make that kind of request,” the director said, bluntly. “For all I know, your daughter will be going from the frying pan into the fire. No offense intended to your father here.”
That stung. “I guess I can understand that,” I managed to say. “You don’t know me from Adam. But my wife and I will do whatever it takes to be your number one choice for foster care and adoption. Whatever it takes.”
“Much has to happen before we can make that decision,” the director said. “There are protocols, legal rulings, and state and local regulations that have to be complied with. You and your wife will have to be vetted. FCS is tasked with making sure every box is checked. Allie is the number one priority. The law requires that every ‘i’ is dotted and ‘t’ crossed.” With that, the three ladies gathered up their folders, stood up, and marched out of the room leaving Charity and I stunned, wondering what to expect next.
I’m pretty sure we just met Grumpy.
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