Friday, April 30, 2010

Before The Judge

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.


  1. I'm a little weepy right now. So happy Bailey is truly home - so happy you are growing as a family!

  2. Spent the morning shoveling out and am now going through my blogroll, updating and managing the blogs I follow - I reread your post and again it makes me smile, ear to ear, and laugh out loud with your take on family life. I hope you start writing again - and in the meantime, I just can't delete your blog from our family's blogroll. Your writing is a treasure!