The visitation schedule we had with the Bio Families didn’t last long. At some point or other, I don’t remember when or even who’d told us, but in the past Bio Mom had missed so many visitations, that by the time we got the kids, she was required to call in to the VC by at least 30 minutes before each visit to let the VC know she was actually going to be there.
So, when I got a call from the VC one day about the time the kids and I were ready to walk out the door and head up there, that the Bio Mom visit was a no go, I didn’t think much about it. I’d figured she’d just missed her call in time and no one knew where she was. I made up some excuse about her being ill to the kids. Oates was disappointed but Hall was, as expected, relieved.
But then double visit day comes around that same week and when the kids and I are getting ready to leave after Oates’ visit with her father, one of the VC staff tells me there’s not going to be a Bio mom visit that afternoon either. I asked “why?”, But they couldn’t tell me. Not sure if they even knew. I always assumed they got their information from the Social Workers. So, when I got home I called Peaches.
My wife and I were quickly learning that calling Peaches meant you got her answering machine and that your call was as likely to be returned as a Somali hooker is to not have HIV. However, it was almost like winning a radio contest or something along those lines, in that I called at the exact moment Peaches was probably answering her rationed one phone call for the day. Which, yes, DOES mean – fingers crossed for the test results now that I’m back from Africa!…Disclosure: I’ve never really been to Africa.
Now, Peaches, despite the difficulty in getting hold of her was the Social Worker I called because back then I could count on her to always be 2 things Seka wasn’t yet – and that’d be ‘unguarded’ and “damn the consequences” honest‘. So, when I asked her if she knew what was going on with Bio Mom, she said without hesitation, “Yeah, she’s in jail”. She didn’t know how long Bio Mom was in for but Peaches’ best guess was that it was going to be at least a few weeks.
That turned out to be a conservative, but fairly close, estimate. Because she went to Jail in late August; later on during the actual Trial part of our case, she’d testify that she’d gone on a bender back then because she was so distraught over Hall’s upcoming birthday that weekend she was arrested and not having him with her…which could be true! It’s not for me to say. But then it wasn’t the only time, and she couldn’t really use the same excuse those other times. Though I suppose she could‘ve tried and said she was drunk and/or high and tried to beat up a cop because it was only 76 days until her daughter‘s birthday!
Anyway, she went to Jail in late August and was released in early November and no one seemed to know where she was for a few weeks until she resurfaced and resumed visitations right around Christmas time. Though not without consequences.
Getting arrested for ANY reason and being sent to Jail doesn’t go over well or make the best impression on your Social Workers or your State appointed Attorney, when you’re supposedly trying to turn your life around so you can get your kids back. And Bio Mom had screwed herself over by doing so and had her 2 hours, twice a week visitations cut down to a single one time, 1 hour a month visit. And she was no longer really being considered a viable option for reunification.
That meant, in unspoken, but still very clear terms that, with no Biological Father fighting for him, Hall would in all likelihood be able to be adopted by us. Which only left Bio Dad. And if Bio Dad by some chance was deemed fit for reunification with Oates, then she and Hall would be separated. And that’s where everything in the case changed. For us and for the kids.
Oates’ Bio Dad, and those that influenced him were really the only players left in the game. Though Bio Mom, like a disembodied spirit, would remain to haunt the Visiting Center and the Court room hallways – ever defiant of her fate and never accepting of the fact that she was already dead.
So, for a while, there was this dreadful calm. There was only the one visitation a week with Bio Dad then. Yet now we knew that the only sort of plausible parental reunification would result in the kids being separated. Prior to Bio Mom’s incarceration, we’d thought she was the odds on favorite. I don’t think she ever really was in the eyes of the Social Workers, but we’d thought she was. And therefore we worried mostly about how heart broken we were going to be if she got Hall and Oates back. As well as worrying about the level of care they’d receive and the life they’d lead growing up with her.
But now, thanks to her own doing, she was dead in the water and Bio Dad had moved to the forefront. And our thoughts shifted away from any concerns about ourselves getting heart broken or the kids possible future with Bio Mom, to being focused fully on what could happen to the kids if they were separated.
We didn’t know what else to do at that point other than to put our trust and faith in the hands of the Social Workers, the Lawyers and the Court. But that trust was misplaced and short-lived as we had our very first Court hearing come up.
Court was one of the topics covered in the Foster Care training classes and one aspect stressed during those trainings was to ‘never go to court alone’. They made it clear that you don’t want to be caught there, amid the tension of the Bio Families and their lawyers, lost and confused and , let’s be honest, hated by those self same bio families.
So, on our first trip to Court we felt certain that, no matter what happened, at least we wouldn’t be alone. Because either Seka or Peaches would be there. Hell, maybe even both of them would be there, seeing as they were both Social Workers on the case now, just handling different phases of it.
The morning of the first hearing my wife and I were fearful of what was going to happen. This was all new to us and we felt as if we were going into that court room to hear a sentencing that was being handed down against us. Rather then just to find out where the case stood. We were prepared for, and expected, the worst. We’d barely slept, not just the night before, but for many nights. As we fretted and worried.
We arrived early and waited around in the hallway while it steadily filled with a miserable looking array of strangers. Now, that’s not meant in an arrogant, “we were better than them”, sort of way. I’m just saying that we knew we were coming to Court that day just as much as the next person there – who was likely in the position of trying to get their kids back – and yet I was the only one who thought enough to go to Ross and pick up a cheap shirt/tie combo to look presentable? I mean, c’mon! If you REALLY want to get your kids back try looking as if you DIDN’T just wake up five minutes ago in the clothes you’ve worn for 2 days. In other words, TRY to look like you’re not still the alcoholic, meth addicted, neglectful parent you still are. Even a superficial change would show you’d put in some effort!
Among the forlorn and unwashed that filled the hallway of the damned, came Bio Dad, Abaddon, Bio Grampa and his wife. I don’t know what they thought of us being there. I don’t think the old Foster Mom had ever attended a Court hearing on the kids case. So, they may have all felt that we were intruding on ‘their’ personal matters. But I don’t think my wife or I gave a damn what they thought. They KNEW we came into the kids lives with the desire to adopt them. So, though they may not have expected us to be there, none of them said anything to us positive or negative that day. We all just sort of avoided each other while managing to never be more then five feet from one another.
Bio Mom wasn’t there, of coarse, because she in the Jail next door at that time. We’d wondered if she’d be brought over for the hearing.
We waited in the hallway, feeling very self conscious and extremely out of place. Not to mention nervous. My wife and I wondered why we hadn’t seen Peaches or Seka. We assumed they must’ve already been in the Courtroom.
Mercifully, ‘our’ case, as it now was, was called early. My wife and I went in first, I think, as we were closet to the door, while Bio Dad and his clan followed behind us. Once inside we were even more nervous than we’d been in the hallway. Seka and Peaches weren’t inside. Neither of them had come.
Nor had Bio Mom been brought over from the Jail to attend.
We sat down in the front row of seats. Which was presumptuous of us, I know, but we wanted to be able to see what was going to happen without having to look around anyone. And, yes, consciously or not, make the statement that we were involved and concerned about the kids and that we were here to stay until whatever the end of this would be.
In front of us to our right was the Lawyer’s table, where we stared at the backs of the heads of several lawyers, not having any idea who represented whom.
To the far right was a male Bailiff who looked like Eric Estrada with a mustache and who gave off an attitude befitting someone far more important than a Bailiff. I imagined that each morning when putting on his uniform, he’d look in his bathroom mirror, straighten his collar, kiss his gun and tell himself that he, alone, stood between Justice and Chaos!
The Judge was directly in front of us, sittin’ all up high in the “Judgey Spot” like they do. In Court, chair height directly correlates to importance. The fact that the Judge is the only one wearing a black robe I guess isn’t enough for everyone to easily spot them. They gotta drive the point home by sitting high enough for you to be able to see up their nostrils.
There were times I wondered to myself if the robe was really as significant as the High Chair. I mean, I’d think – what if I wore a black robe like that to Court and just sat down in the back – would I get thrown out? Would I be mistaken for a visiting Judge filling in and lead to a Courtroom where I could Rule on something? ‘Cause say what you will, robes like that look darn comfy and it seems like the fabric would really ‘breathe”, ya know? …Wait, what was I talking about? Oh! The Judge, right…
It was a woman. I don’t remember her name. The Judges seem to switch every 2 years or so and her time was almost up. So, this was the first and last time we’d see her. Which was good! I didn’t like her. I didn’t like anything about her. I didn’t like her face, I didn’t like her voice. I didn’t like her withered, crone-like hands or her sunken, black as the La Brea Tar Pits, eyes as they glanced unseeing over whatever the paperwork related to the case in front of her was. I didn’t like her gray hair (which normally I find incredibly sexy on a woman – but on her… it wasn’t doing it for me!). I didn’t like the way she seemed kind of condescending when she asked us who we were and irritated when we told her.
But I especially didn’t like the way she immediately granted one of the lawyer’s requests for a Continuance and then dismissed everyone.
The point of the Continuance, the back of the Lawyer head we saw in the middle was saying, was that they were waiting for a Parent/Child Bond Evaluation to be done on Bio Dad and Oates. But that the guy doing it, let’s call him, ‘Dr. Pepper‘, couldn’t do it for another few weeks.
It took all of 3 minutes. Hours, days, weeks of us worrying, dreading…three minutes. The introductions of who everyone in attendance was that day had filled over 1 of those 3 minutes. During which, I still remember Abaddon – who at that point we hadn’t yet met and who’d never been around Oates to the best of our knowledge because she wasn’t allowed to attend Bio Dad’s visitations – introduced herself as Oates’ “Step Mother”. If either my wife or I’d been taking a drink at the moment we woulda done a “spit take”.
My wife and I sat in our seats for a few seconds not sure if we were supposed to leave or not. It all happened so fast. And if there’s one thing TV judge shows have taught me, it’s that rulings end when the Judge smacks their gavel down on that little block of wood made somewhere in the world specifically for gavel smackin‘. But she didn’t even take the time to do that!
When we left the courtroom, feeling kind of confused about what’d just happened, we walked past Bio Dad, his father and stepmother and Abaddon, huddled in conference with what’d been the fattest and most unkempt of the back of the Lawyer heads we’d seen.
Our confusion and general dissatisfaction about what had transpired lasted through the elevator ride back down to the first floor and out the Court House doors. But by the time we were outside and walking to our car it’d transformed into anger. Pure, unfiltered, “I’m gonna go all Amityville on your ass”, Anger!
When we got home we called Peaches and Seka. I don’t know which one we got hold of first, I was too pissed to care. But when whichever one of them it was told us, “Oh, yeah, it was set to be continued. Someone should’ve told you”, – I was livid!
Even my wife was furious and she’s always the calmer of the two of us! She’s the one who’s always kept me from going on rage fueled killing sprees. Well, make that ‘a killing spree’ (singular) – you really only get one. Because they tend to end with either the last thing you see being the red dot of a sniper’s rifle laser guide crawling up your chest and onto you face OR with you taking off one shoe so you can pull the trigger of the shotgun in your mouth with your toe.
It was the first time we’d leave Court furious. Driving home with me spouting out an endless diatribe of curses and profanity so vile that you’d almost expect the devil himself to appear and say, “Whoa, whoa! could ya tone it down?…we got baby demons down here. They don’t need to hear that!” Yeah, it was the first time… but it wasn’t going to be the last.
That Court experience, though lasting only 3 minutes, was unbelievably educational. We’d learned that we didn’t matter. We hadn’t been told the case was going to be continued – even though Seka or Peaches could’ve told us, they didn’t. Likewise we hadn’t even been told that there was any plan in the works to do a Parent/Child Bond Evaluation of Bio Dad and Oates.
Which lead to the other educating fact…Hall and Oates didn’t matter either. In all fairness, the Foster Care training classes go over that when discussing Court. But until you actually SEE it happen – it doesn’t sink in. At least for me it didn’t. To sit there in Court – helpless to defend the children living with you, the children you’re ready and willing to spend your life raising, loving, losing sleep over and helping in any way you ever could, the same children you’ve already spent more physical time caring for than any of their biological family – while everything centers around a man like Bio Dad, who wasn’t even named on Oates’ birth certificate…is astounding, nauseating and contemptible.
The only thing spoken of that day by the Lawyers was the Bond evaluation of Bio Dad and Oates. Nothing said or thought of by them regarding the bond between Hall and Oates. By that date in Court the kids had been in the Foster Care system for 2 years. In it everyday, through every home they’d been in and out of, every trauma they’d suffered – together! Oates hadn’t lived with Bio Dad for what must’ve been going on 3 years at that point. Yet the only legal interest was in Bio Dad’s rights.
On their own, even though they had a Lawyer representing them, who’d never met them, Hall and Oates had no legal rights and no standing in Court. And we’d believed, wrongly, that Social Services was going to be the advocate for the children. Be their voice. But they weren’t.
And not because the Social Workers didn’t want to be. Peaches had been on the kids case from shortly after they’d entered Foster Care and her recommendation had been, consistently, that the kids should be adopted because the Bio Families were unfit to care for them. And Seka had obviously moved from Intake to Adoptions because she wanted to be more a part of bringing a positive change to the lives of the kid’s she dealt with by seeing them placed in homes and with families that’d love and care for them better than they’d ever been by their Biological Families.
So, both of them advocated for Hall and Oates to the extent that they were legally able. And, having known them as I did, for as long as I did, I know that they were often as frustrated by the limitations set upon them by the legal process as we were. Maybe even more so, early on. Because they’d been involved in the legal proceedings by way of their input to the County Social Services Attorney – or whatever his title was – and seen the case, despite their best efforts, stall for two years.
Whereas my wife and I had just entered the whole situation and had been viewing it from the sidelines like fans watching a poorly played sporting event. While not even having the voice or freedom to be able to yell anything at the “players” in the Court room like “You suck!” and then hurl soda bottles at their heads. Which, as close as we’d been sitting to the Lawyer’s Table, I coulda picked ‘em off with said soda bottles with enough accuracy to win a Carnival prize.
No, in order for Hall and Oates to have any REAL representation in that Courtroom in favor of them being kept together, we – my wife and I, would have to be the ones to do it. Which meant that even after that first 3 minute Court hearing we started seriously thinking about filing for “DeFacto Parent Status”. Which I’ll discuss later when things in this story get to the point where we actually did file.
For now though, not to leave anyone hanging, I’ll say that filing DeFacto Parent Status means that you’re asking the Court to consider you as a placement option for the kids and allowing you to become a party in the case. Your standing is not as high as the Biological Parents in regard to the Law and your Rights. But you’re able to have some input, present some evidence into the case and simply just let the Court (meaning the Judge, really) know that you’re ready and willing to take care of the kids in question.
And that’s incredibly important. Because the State never wants to terminate Parental Rights and leave a child essentially an orphan. So, if the Judge is looking at a case and feeling the Biological Parent doesn’t meet the requirements needed for reunification with their child, they know that there is an available alternative placement option for the child with the DeFacto Parents. Who usually, like us, are willing and ready to adopt the kids.
Oh, and we’d also come to learn the benefits of obtaining a Lawyer when you’re DeFacto Parents. Because when you get a good one, as we were blessed enough to have, it’s both entertaining and liberating to be able to watch the many different ways your lawyer has of properly, and with all due respect to the Court and their peers. saying, “You suck!” on your behalf and hurling those soda bottles.