From the day that Mary was brought into our home, we were convinced not only by Mary’s connection to her mom, but also by the words of several social workers, resource workers, case managers and therapists, that Mary would be inevitably returning to her biological mother within a years time. We should have known better! Every other placement we had, we were told that the children would likely be freed for adoption, but within a few short weeks, they were all transitioned to a relatives home, and Callie and I were left licking our wounds, sad and crying on our couch, as we cuddled and caught up on weeks of TV that were impossible to watch when you have toddlers who would not benefit from watching the latest season of RuPaul’s Drag Race. Mary has been a different case all together. Considering her background and the hard work that mom had done in the past to get her back, we just sort of figured that Mary’s time with us was finite, and would eventually come to an end, no doubt breaking us all over again.
Over the past 3 months, Mom’s performance has been…less than stellar. Actually, to be totally honest, no one even knows where Mom is, yet again! Since January, she has shown up for 2 visits, then goes MIA again. Her excuse usually is that she doesn’t have a phone or she’s been working umpteen hours, but we all know that it isn’t that case. Turns out mom is newly pregnant (about 4 months and decided to announce it to Mary at their last visit almost 3 weeks ago [which must make Mary feel really terrible because baby gets mom, but she doesn’t] but told the case worker that she isn’t really sure what she wants to do yet – sigh), and has had several other issues that go against the plan to get Mary back. During the time that mom has been missing meetings and visits and therapy and anger management and parenting and her outpatient treatment program, we have been encouraged to not tell Mary the truth. We have been told to tell her that mom is working, or that she wasn’t feeling well, or that she had to cancel because of the weather, all the while dying inside because Mary isn’t your average 7 year old. She grew up and socialized with adults most of her life, so she is well aware of the things that are going on, excellent at reading social cues, despite her OBVIOUSLY playing dumb (she does this too us ALL the time…”Where are we going Saturday?” after overhearing us say we are going to my parents from 3 rooms over!).
Wednesday morning we had a permanency hearing for Mary. We got all of the kids ready for the day. Callie’s parents dropped Mary at school and came back to watch the boys. We grabbed our notebooks and paperwork and head to county court to find out what would be happening with Mary for at least the next 6 months. At our last home visit, our case worker told us that she was going to file a TPR, and if we were willing to adopt Mary.We quickly answered “YES!”. Now this is something that I haven’t really spoken about because, well, as foster parents, you sort of expect to love all of the children that come into your home, but you never really know how you will connect with them. I have a pretty awesome relationship with Mary. Callie and Mary’s relationship, on the other hand, is a bit…strained. I know that they both love each other dearly, but there is something about both of their personalities that don’t really mesh well. My take on it*** 1) Mary is very attached to her mother. Callie is very motherly/maternal. Mary will not allow Cal to be her mom, because in her eyes, well, she doesn’t need one because she has one. Callie feels rejected and subconsciously acts on it. Because I am more like “dad” which Mary doesn’t really have, it makes our connection different. 2) Callie is the disciplinarian. I am not. She has follow through where I have “but their just kids!” It’s more fun to be with me than Callie. All that being said, we have been struggling with making the decision that is best for our family, because after all, adoption is forever. After much contemplation and weeeeeeekkkkkkssssss of talking it over, we decided that what is best for our family is to give all the love to Mary that we would our biological children, all the attention that she deserves and a chance at belonging and being part of a healthy (albeit crazy!) family. She is THRIVING and excelling in our home. She has done a complete 180 from when she first came to us. And aside from all of that, how could we be willing contributors in the ruining of her life? More transitions, more people that in her eyes “don’t love her and leave”. It’s something that we wouldn’t be able to deal with. Financially, we will be a hot mess, but we’ll figure it out. We always have, and we probably always will. (And potentially, if Mary’s moms baby goes into care, taking on another infant to keep siblings together—no need to tell us we are out of our minds….we know!)
We meet up at court with our case worker (we’ll just call her Krista from here on out), her attorney ( the county attorney really), Mary’s mom’s attorney, and Mary’s attorney. We sat and spoke for about 20 minutes before our case was called in. To all of our surprise (read:we were not surprised), Mary’s mom didn’t show up. The lawyer was trying to contact her. Krista was trying to contact her. No answer. They called relatives who tried to get in touch with her, and no one could reach her or confirm her whereabouts. For some strange reason, my heart was so heavy for Mary in those moments before the judge said she’d give her another 10 minutes and the benefit of the doubt. We step out of the courtroom. We all knew she wasn’t going to show. She didn’t want to hear it from the judge (who has been seeing this same case for apparently the 1087 days that Mary has been in the custody of the county). 10 minutes later, we all go back in. The judge does not look happy, even with the 50+ snow globes adorning her desk (no seriously, like 50!!!). After being sworn in, our worker gives her all of the details. How mom has been missing, and that all of her therapies and programs have been cancelled due to non-compliance. That they reduced her visits from 2 hours unsupervised weekly, back to 1 hour supervised bi-weekly and that mom still isn’t attending. How despite all attempts (phone calls, emails, home visits, contacting family, and snail mail), it has been near impossible to contact her. Her own lawyer, even made a point to say in court, that she no longer wants to represent her client and wants to be relieved because she is tired of chasing her around (in more words). The judge was not happy. She asked us how Mary was doing in our home, and what behaviors she has been exhibiting. We were very candid and forthright with our answers. She was having a hard time emotionally, but we were doing our best. By the end of our 5 minute spiel, the judge had heard enough. She changed the permanency goal to “Adoption”, and told our case worker that she wanted the TPR complete and on her desk within 90 days.
When we got home from court, we hung out with our boys and my MIL for about an hour before we went to speak to a lawyer about Callie’s job situation (another post, BUT turns out we have a case! And we’re gonna pursue it thanks to the New York State Division of Human Rights). When we got home after that, Mary was waiting for us, as usual, to ask us how our day was. We have a dry erase board in our kitchen that we update every month in different colors so that everyone knows what their appointments and activities are for the month. On April 15th, our calendar said COURT. She asked us if court was for her. Callie and I looked at each other and decided that it was best to start letting her know the truth and begin to process what is happening. We told her that it was, and that it was a very important meeting.
Mary: Was my mom there?
Me: She was supposed to be honey, but she didn’t show up. A lot of people were really disappointed and sad at her today, including us.
Mary: Why was everyone sad?
Me: Because today the judge needed help deciding if you were going to go back to live with Mom soon, or if you were going to be staying to live with us maybe forever. When your mom didn’t come, the judge didn’t really know what to think, and couldn’t ask your mom some important questions to help make her decision.
Mary: (with a weird grin on her face, she slowly walked backwards out of the kitchen and around the corner loudly whispering) Ooohhhhhhhhh kkkkkkkkkk….
Me: Come back here coocoo…this is important…
Mary: (hysterical and in tears) But I really miss mommy, and I really wanna go with her. I mean, I love living here, and you and Callie and the boys, so it’s not that, but I really wanted to go back with mommy!
Me: Would living with us forever be so bad?
Mary: No,it’s good, but I just miss mommy!!!
Me: And mommy misses you too honey. Just because she can’t take care of you doesn’t mean she doesn’t love you with her whole heart. She just has a difficult time making good choices that will keep you together.
And she hugged me, hard, for a long time, and cried into my tummy, telling me she loved us, and followed me around the house for the next hour, probably distracting herself from all of the thoughts that were going on in her head. We spoke to her therapist and told her we were going to be more honest with her (in an age appropriate way) and that it would probably be really good to start working through and sorting through some of that stuff during her sessions.
Friends, I don’t want to count my chickens before they hatch, but by the looks of it, we are going to be going down this adoption road sooner than we expected. Mary might one day in the near future be a Mendez. But in 90 days, the TPR will be filed, and the journey continues. Her mom can appeal, but after 1087 days in care, and a judge that has given her 8 tries to get it together, I don’t think any number of appeals will help mom. There is also the option of a conditional surrender (mom signing over her rights with “conditions”) but we would REALLY have to consider that…our little girl has been hurt enough. We understand that these things can take anywhere from 1 1/2-3 years…so we’re waiting, patiently, nervously, for Mary to finally have her forever family.