Just the Facts
“We’ve been over this. Confidentiality.”
Harrah, my caseworker, had said it to me so definitively, so coldly. Of course, by that point it must have been about the hundredth time she’d explained it to me, but as it slipped through her lips again the word just felt like abandonment.
“Permanency hearings are confidential, so you’ll need to wait outside until they call you.” Her visit was coming to a close and she was packing up her things as she spoke. “Just remember what I told you.”
“Right, right. Act professional, stick to facts.” I had parroted this very phrase back to her during the visit, thinking it was a pretty simple set of rules to follow. But now, as I sit alone on the hallway bench, having arrived way too early, Charlie’s sitting in some DCF office, this judge is preparing to decide the course of her life, and I am officially feeling incredibly unprofessional.
Just the facts, I tell myself over and over, as though I’m back in the meeting with Harrah. The facts. What are the facts? Well, Rachel is a recovering drug addict. That’s one thing in my favor right? Okay, fact one complete. Next fact: She’s back with her fresh-out-of-prison ex. An ex-con step-dad isn’t going to play well in a courtroom, I’m sure. I’m feeling much better already. I mean, I know that Rachel’s been clean now for most of Charlie’s placement, but even during visitation it was so obvious that she was a completely clueless mother. Over the weeks since the court instituted the visitation plan, Rachel had called me for everything — she didn’t know how to handle diaper changes, couldn’t handle Charlie’s late night crying fits, forgot how the pulse-ox worked, and even bailed once to go see a concert with her boyfriend, who isn’t even the same guy she’s with now! The woman only had to do all this stuff once a week, so there’s no way she can handle the work every single day. Every time she called me during visitations she sounded exhausted, and always seemed more than excited when it came time for Charlie to come home. She couldn’t even –
The door is opening. It’s time. Crap, Tom get your crap together. Crap! Where’s the paperwork, is everything here? Amidst my confusion, the murmur of the people from the courtroom has grown, and I can now make out what sounds like crying. Instinctively, I look up and quickly determine I was wrong — it’s not yet my turn.
There’s a couple coming through the door with a kid, probably about fifteen or sixteen years old, and they’re all tears and smiles. I guess things went well for them. Charlie’s too young for court right now, but I’m sure if she could talk my case would be open and shut, TPR here we come. Man, why can’t every foster parent get a happy ending like –
Then, I notice another woman, also crying. She appears to be following the family out, and though there are tears all over her face, I can tell she’s doing her best to hold back sobs. After getting a little bit into the hallway, the family turned around to face her. I’m surprised they let the bio mom out at the same time as the kid and his foster family, but I guess they didn’t think it would be a problem.
“You guys have done so well,” the lonely-looking woman said. She was wiping away an increasing flow of tears as she spoke. “Mary, Gerry, I just, I can’t tell you how happy I am for you. And Keaton!” She threw her hands into the air, making her best efforts to appear celebratory. “You finally get to go back with mom and dad. Aren’t you glad I made you do all that packing last night instead of right now?” Mom and dad? This is not the scene I thought it was.
The boy practically lunged forward from the embrace of his parents and wrapped the woman in big, tight hug. After a brief moment, he looked up, first at this woman, then to his parents, and back again, and asked,
“Well… would it maybe be okay if I could keep my Xbox at your house?” He seemed sheepish. “Then when I visit you it’ll still be there!”
My heart is breaking. This boy is not staying with his foster mom — he’s being reunified. As my emotions swirl, I can’t determine which is worse; that the foster mom is losing a child, or that he actually looks happy.
Stop it, I tell myself. STOP IT. I’m not this person. I manage to break my gaze from the bittersweet scene as the doors close and I notice a set of parents take a seat on the bench in front of me. Why did I have to get here so damn early? I’m not sure I can handle this. I do my best to drown out the conversations of these families, and hope I can just keep my composure and make it through. I think about Charlie.
She’s such a beautiful baby girl, from that tiny little clump of hair that sits at the top of her forehead to the way she looks around the room when she first wakes up. I laugh as I recall her first night with me, the nervousness followed by joy followed by more nervousness. In anticipation of the placement, I’d bought clothes in what they’d told me was her size, but they were all too big anyway — her huge head popping out of her loose, oversized pajamas. Without thinking, I pull out my phone and swipe over to the camera gallery. Since her arrival in my home, my phone had become the de facto family photo album, and here, outside the courtroom, I was missing her so much. I just want the best for her.
The best? For her? Or for me? I can’t shake these feelings of disgust for Rachel — I always thought I understood the process, that I was helping a mother out while she got back to a place where she could take care of her own kid, but sitting here, all I can think about is losing my child. MY child.
Even as I think this, I can hear Harrah’s voice in my head: “Act professional, stick to the facts.” Who am I kidding?
Fact: This feels miserable. The thought that I might be separated from Charlie is literally sickening.
Fact: This already happened to Rachel. For all my hemming and hawing out here, Rachel overcame a drug addiction because it meant having a relationship with her daughter. I can barely think straight, and Rachel beat addition — maybe she’s stronger than I give her credit for.
Fact: Rachel is Charlie’s mom. Charlie is Rachel’s daughter. I started this believing that a child should be with their parent, believing that I was helping not only Charlie, but Rachel as well, that I was helping their family.
And right now, all I’ve been thinking about is breaking that family up so I can start my own. What happened to me? I never expected this to be so hard. Be professional, I tell myself. Stick to the facts. Maybe in my anxiety I’ve been a bit unkind to Rachel. After all, who doesn’t get tired of a crying baby, dirty diapers, and spilled food? I can’t imagine my mother thought I sounded like a particularly great parent when I called her at 3AM sobbing because Charlie was sick and wouldn’t stop crying. But why can’t I shake this feeling? Do the right thing, I tell myself.
At this moment, the door opens and the bailiff calls out, “Mr. Thomas Hedgewood?” I pop up and immediately spill my papers all over the floor. Embarrassed, I look over to the other couple that was waiting for their time in court and realize they’re gone. How long have I been sitting here?
“Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry, that’s me,” I apologize as I bend over to pick everything up. The bailiff comes over and helps me, looking rather bored and uninterested as he does so. His indifferent courtesy doesn’t do much to put me at ease.
“Alright Mr. Hedgewood, the judge will see you now.” He held the door open for me as I straightened my papers and entered the courtroom.
Act professional, I tell myself. Stick to the facts.