We took Bailey to court Thursday, as part of a required hearing related to his case. It was not related to the adoption process but rather just another stop in the legal process for a neglected child. The state mandates that the Department of Health and Human Services meet on a regular basis with the court system to ensure he is getting adequate care at the hands of the state, who is legally his guardian.
Bailey can say he knows more about legal proceedings than the far majority of 6-year-olds he meets. Not that he would say anything, or that he even understood where he was. He was merely enamored with the district attorney's bow tie. Bailey has a neck tie and wears it all the time. The bow tie was, to Bailey, the best friggin thing he's ever seen, and insisted we buy him one.
Bailey wore a dress shirt beneath a sweater, a pair of blue jeans, and his favorite shoes, the ones he always puts on the wrong feet in the mad rush before leaving, even if he's the only one in a mad rush to leave. Corrine cut his hair a few weeks back, trimming away the hedge-like scramble of red hair from his ears and neck and eyes. Whereas before he looked hip, modern and cute, he traded up for handsome.
We drove to Augusta, to the district court office building that resembles somewhere you'd pay your phone bill. Nothing austere or courtly about it, actually. (As a reporter I used to cover criminal and civil courts and the buildings I entered were grand, gothic-looking structures that I was certain were built that way to make criminals pee themselves.)
We were met there by Bailey's ad litem, Bailey's case worker, the DA/bow tie man. We were led down the center aisle of the court room and directed to sit in the gallery in a pew. In fact, the entire room had a churchy feeling to it. The judge's dias was raised like a pulpit. The judge wore a flowing robe. I prayed that I didn't have to go pee. Corrine and I sat on either side of our red-head, to snatch him if he made like he was going to rush the judge. Or go for the bailiff's gun. Both of which are quite possible with Bailey. Fools may rush in. Bailey sprints like a bastard, at everything. Food, children, tractors, parades, beds, chickens.
The judge entered and we were commanded to rise, and Bailey obeyed. The judge then commanded us to be seated, and Bailey obeyed. And then Bailey announced his revelation that the judge had a "real tie" (not a bow tie like the DA.) Thank God Bailey doesn't speak English. Although it did sound like "He's a Guy!" not "He's got a tie!"
Either way, the judge did not hear him, or chose to not hear him, which judges are apt to do. I once covered a case in which a defendant called the entire proceeding a "shit storm" and the judge didn't even blink, showing the kind of restraint I am famously not known for. I would have convicted him on the spot.
Corrine was as nervous as I was, I think. Nervous that Bailey would act up, or that the case worker would suddenly say he was no longer available to adopt, or that the judge was going to know the registration on our van was six months expired and would arrest us. Hey, they hold sway for a reason. They're judges. Come on.
Bailey did not act up. In fact, the judge began by commending us for taking Bailey in. I got all choked up. I got all choked up even before that, when he looked up from his bench at us and said "Mr. and Mrs. Turner?" We've NEVER been called that before. It's always "Jesus Christ, it's you guys" or "Here comes trouble."
But he did, on the record, commend us. And he then spoke briefly with Bailey, asking if he was in school "Aye!" and in what grade "Aye?" and if he liked school "Aye!" Bailey, in case you missed it, is an Irish pirate. The judge didn't seem to care, either. Irish pirates apparently are not illegal in Maine. Maybe because they only plunder their noses. Well, OUR Irish pirate does anyway. And boy he finds gold EVERY TIME.
And so, Bailey got high marks for courtroom behavior. The judge didn't even have to use his gavel on him (which I was disappointed about actually. A judge HAS to use his gavel, doesn't he?)
But in reality, I could not help but feel very sad at the whole ordeal. Bailey will probably never know what he has gone through. Our mission in life is to do our best to blunt the boy's bitter past, hoping that the neglect he suffered through becomes so distant that any thought he has of it feels more like a bad dream. Yes, he is paying for the sins of his biologicals, as we call them. He can't speak, for starters. Well, not very well, anyway, but we're working on that too. But the fact that he has to go to court every so often means someone somewhere really fucked up big time. These meetings before a judge are just perfunctory really, to make sure Bailey is getting what he did not get. That he is no longer in the situation that he found himself when he was an infant: abandoned, abused, neglected.
The levity of this was brought home with the judge's parting words. He thanked us for making his day. We were his first case, and to be able to jot in the case file that Bailey was moving ahead with "good people" meant that in short time he could stamp "DISMISSED" on the file. An ironic word, if you think about it. The final legal stamp that this boy gets also sums up the very reason he was brought to court four years ago in the first place. He had been dismissed then, too, by his mother. Back then, the word meant abandonment, pain, and confusion.
Now, the word means inclusion, love, and hope.
PS: When the judge first read the docket number, he also read Bailey's full legal name, his biological name, the one he hates. He shouted "Bailey Turner!"
And he didn't even get arrested. Irish pirates rule.
Thursday, April 22, 2010
If all goes as planned, we will go before a judge on or around May 23, and officially Bailey will become our son.
Not a small thing, to be sure. A heady responsibility, in fact. To take into our home someone else's child, and legally make him our own. And while he has been living with us since last November, and therefore already seems like "our" son, to make it official is scary. We snip the ties he has to the State on that day. There is no turning back. There's no "official" guardian in some 10x10 office in Augusta to whom we can turn and seek refuge if something goes wrong.
He will become dependent on us for all things. Including our resolve to raise him as we do our other children: with love and affection, but with a mind to discipline.
Which brings up an interesting conundrum. In the last six months, the prescribed time frame required of us, under state rules, to house Bailey, we have noticed a disturbing trend. Because of Bailey's history, of abuse and neglect, the tendency of some is to over-compensate. He is showered with affection and gifts from a biological aunt, for example. He is coddled by others when, in the same breath, our other children are disciplined. He is doted on and taken places, given things, while his two younger siblings (our two youngest children) are ignored.
I don't exaggerate. Bailey very quickly, upon entering our home, became a pet, not a boy who needed a family. He was celebrated, elevated, purred over. To his detriment. And to the detriment of our efforts at creating a parent-child relationship with him. Like any child, Bailey saw this treatment as being natural, and therefore expected it. And when he would return to us from, say, his biological aunt's or from one of our own family member's home, he expected the same treatment from us.
We don't praise Bailey more than the others, we don't expect less of him because of his past. We have deliberately treated Bailey as if he took his first breath with us. He is disciplined when he does wrong, and he is praised when he does well. (He does many things well. In fact, he does many things experts claimed he would never do...)
So Corrine and I, when we put Bailey in timeout for whacking Griffin, or for stealing keys from Corrine's purse, feel like bad parents. There is a part of us that flinches when we have to scold Bailey, because we-more than any others in our family-know his history. We know what he has gone through. And there is that moment's hesitation when we wonder if we are contributing to a long history of "abuse."
Bailey, we have found, is very much a typical 6-year-old boy. He can be mischievous, curious, delightful, moody, exuberant, tired, excitable, stubborn, and introspective. But he is extremely loving. He is not retarded (as his diagnosis reported), he is not incapable of learning at his age level (as his diagnosis reported) he is not unable to play well with "normal" kids (as was reported), he thrives in an assortment of educational settings (contrary to what was reported).
Bailey is a boy. With a past. But that is the past. And while it certainly has affected his present, it has not defined him. To a person, Bailey has made phenomenal progress since being placed with us. The most-often heard remark from state officials, case workers, former teachers, and those who have worked with him, is "Wow. He's doing so much better..."
Bailey has needed structure, not gifts. He has needed direction, not a parade of well-meaning adults treating him like a broken toy.
In a month he becomes Bailey Turner, legally. This is the day he ceases to be a statistic, or bound to his past, or treated like anything other than a 6 year old boy with a truly caring family. Within the fold, not above it.
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
At the end of college, in the spring of 2013 (if all goes as planned), I will have earned a BFA in Creative Writing and a BA in Philosophy. And no job prospects. But I'm not going to college to get a job, as odd as that may sound. I intended on sharpening my skills as a critical thinker and a creative writer. Writing is my job now and will be then.
But, I need to make money too. That's the reality. If I write the next Great American Whatever, then a "job" won't be necessary. But I don't write with that in mind. It would stifle me more than I'm already stifled creatively. It's all I would focus on. I would be trying to find the commercial angle to my ideas.
So I've decided to think seriously about teaching. Wow that sounded like "settling."
Okay. Teaching is something my father did for 40 years. Well, teaching that led to becoming a principal then a curriculum director. Anyway, my point is, I respect teachers and teaching. I don't mean to make it sound like I'm considering it professionally as a "fall back" like it's some sort of menial task. Like falling back on chocolate when you've run out of vanilla ice cream.
It would be a challenge. Especially at 45 when the great majority of teachers would be in their early 20s. I would be old enough to be their father, and old enough to be my students' grandfather. If I taught kindergarten I mean.
I would teach at the secondary level. Probably English. Or "Philosophical creative writing" given my major.
I don't know. I'm just babbling at this point. I've put the idea on the menu. As an option. We'll see.
Monday, April 19, 2010
Forgive me Father. It's been three months since my last blogfession.
I ventured out here again after several weeks and noticed my last post was about my daughter's birthday, on January 16th!
Ouch. Boy have I been lazy with the whole blog thing. My excuse? Life, I suppose. Full-time college, adopting Bailey, Fallon is graduating in June, Corrine rescued four horses and has turned our back yard into a paddock, I turned 42, I was in a play with Corrine...
Hardly worth skipping my blog duties, I know.
Speaking of being in a play...
Corrine and I auditioned for Enchanted April and both got parts. The show ended yesterday afternoon and was a fantastic experience. From beginning to end, a wonderful excursion away from the busy-ness of our daily lives. The last time we spent time on stage was in 2005. It was time to get back on.
Actually, I did not want to audition. School was keeping me busy. I was traveling an hour to school each morning and an hour back in the afternoon. I had homework each night. The last thing I needed was to crowd it with nightly rehearsals.
I took Corrine to auditions and the second I walked in the door, the director implored me to audition as well, and I did. I'm a sucker for theater. I couldn't pass it up, despite feeling very uneasy about just how impossible it would be to do a show on top of everything else.
I'm glad I did. Working with Corrine was what I needed I think. Well, I know. To be transported away from our lives just for a few hours a week has had a healing effect I think. We both have lamented all winter the fact that we don't get time together.
What was amazing about the show, however, was just how wonderful a job Corrine did. This was her first lead role, one she shared with another actress equally (it's a show about how these two English women, in dying marriages, conspire to vacation in Italy).
Corrine was nervous from the beginning about such an enormous role. She was on stage for the majority of the show, and she nailed the part. I was and am proud of her. The recognition she has received for her portrayal of "Rose" was well-deserved.
Now, it's back to Earth. School ends in less than a month. I have the summer off, hopefully to get back to writing. I look forward to it. But I will miss my nights with Corrine. I guess we'll just have to conspire to escape more often. Just her and me.