Tuesday, March 21, 2006

An Adoption Tale

Geez. How long ago was it that I said I would do this? Shut up. I forgot ok? And I'm doing it now.
Mr X and I met when Girl X was 2. It was at my sister's wedding. She was marrying his brother. Go ahead and insert your own joke here. It's even funnier when you consider that we don't get along very well.
Girl X distrusted men. She like my dad and my brother but every other male who dared to so much as look at her? They got an earful. And if they got to close, maybe a little fist in the eye.
Mr X spent the entire night with Girl X. She followed him everywhere. He sat on the floor and they played with an ice bucket. She had no interest in me or the pretty flowers I was holding for her.
It took me by surprise. That moment, that one brief moment where she was a normal 2 year old, playing on the floor.
Her own father had more interest in his drugs than his child and I had left him, long overdue, several months earlier. I suppose I was a bit mistrustful of men too. I had little patience or respect for the majority of the ones I had met during my brief solitude. Mostly, I was too busy to take the time to deal with it all.
I wasn't expecting this. I really wasn't expecting him to return since he lived on the other side of the country. But he did. I moved to be with him and we became a family. Something Girl X hadn't really experienced first hand.
She started preschool and we settled into a routine. Her biological father called nearly a year later but never asked for her. I ignored him.
One day, Girl X began calling Mr X 'Daddy'. We began talking about him adopting her someday. I knew it would be a fight because for as little as her biological father had to do with her, he would not like what that meant for his reputation.
We were married and immediately after returning home contacted an attorney who, for a $1000 retainer, did nothing for 3 months.
We hired an attorney Mr X had known for years and began what would turn out to be a 2 year ordeal.
Step one was contacting her biological father to see if he would be willing to terminate his parental rights so that Mr X could adopt her. By this time, I had only heard from him 3 times in 2 years. He never paid child support, wrote her letters or asked about her. Still, I knew he would refuse.
One day, our lawyer called and said he had found my ex-husband and that he wanted to speak to me. When I called, from a payphone, he cursed me out and then demanded that Mr X call him and then he would consider it.
Mr X called him 8 times, all times my ex had suggested, but Ex refused to answer. I suppose he thought if he ignored us we would give up.
I was determined to have this done. All I could think about was what would happen to her if I were to die unexpectedly.
She would be taken from the only father she had ever known after losing her mother, and be placed with a man who would promptly forget her. Taken away from the man who one night turned to me and said, "I keep forgetting that I wasn't in the delivery room. I don't know what else to say but that she is my daughter." And he meant it. He still does. He knows every detail of the day she was born because I've told him. He knows the first two years of her life because I gave them to him. And he has taken them as his. What is more real than that?
At a grocery store once, a clerk looked at her blond curls and our dark hair and said that she didn't look like she belonged. I was pissed but Mr X put her arms around Girl X and said she fit just fine.
Our next step was to take him to court. Which meant that we had to serve him with court papers.
If he faced us in court, I would have to testify. We would have to prove that the benefits of having his rights terminated would by far outweigh the biological father's rights. This is not nearly as easy as one might think.
This was pointless to worry about though until we could find him. Because while his phone number was simple to track down, his actual address was not.
Plus, we had to do all of this from the other side of the country. Everytime I thought we had him, it all went to hell. With the aid of my father, a constable (similar duties to what a sheriff has), we found out that my ex was homeless. He was living in his semi at work.
I guess I wasn't really that surprised. It's not like he was terribly responsible when we were together. I think I was more relieved. Now, even if he fought us, what judge would give him visitation rights with no where to go? And maybe that seems heartless, but my only concern was Girl X. I couldn't fake enough concern over his living arrangements.
Since Ex did not live in the same state as us, he did not have to show up in court. He only had to have a lawyer there. A lawyer he could have for free simply by calling the numbers provided to him on the court papers. In bold letters.
We legally had to give him 20 days to respond. We gave him 40.
The day of the hearing, I was almost 7 months pregnant and ready to throw up. We were both nervous. I was worried he would show. I slipped my hand into Mr X's and we waited for our names to be called.
He didn't show.
It was over in 5 minutes.
Parental rights terminated.
We left the courtroom and immediately started crying. Relief.
The hardest part was over.
We had 2 months until the adoption hearing. Before we could get there, we had to meet with a social worker.
She would do a background search on Mr X and a family history (boy there's a can of worms that should never be opened!) and have a meeting with us.
He had to fill out a 10 page document about himself including his past personal history; what was your childhood like? (Earthworms?) What were you like after high school? (Oh shit!) Why do you want to be this child's father? He also had to get 2 personal references and one from work. These people would have to write at least 3 paragraphs about the type of person/worker Mr X was. We sent some pictures and talked about the things we liked to do as a family.
Mr X and I took Girl X to meet her. He had to inform her of his health which meant owning up to the Thing We Are Not Discussing but we lucked out that she understood. She met with me and I was so nervous. She asked a few questions about my childhood and I was as honest as I could be without turning it into a therapy session.
She met with all of us together and talked to Girl X, mostly asking her what she liked to do and how she felt about the adoption. Girl X was just a few months shy of her 7th birthday by then. Her reply was to look blankly at the social worker and ask if she had any cookies.
In all the nervousness and stress of the adoption, we hadn't sat down and really explained it to her. We talked about it, but obviously not enough. Now we had no choice.
I wasn't looking forward to this one. To sitting down and telling Girl X about this other person. I had to be careful about what I said about him. I didn't want Girl X to think negatively of herself simply because of this jackass.
She took it better than I had hoped, wrapping her arms around Mr X and declaring that he was her daddy and nothing else mattered.
And she was right.

November 1, 2004.
It was quiet. The judge asked only a few questions, read the social worker's recommendation, and smiled. Girl X was asked to come up to the judge's chair and bang the gavel. We took pictures. The judge ordered that we go out for ice cream.
And we did.
2 years of legal work;$7,000; 2 lawyers and a social worker. That's what it took.

November 1, 2004 was the day Girl X legally became Mr X's daughter, the name change, a new birth certificate, all the security in knowing she would never be taken away. But in reality? She had been his the day he sat on the floor for 2 hours playing in an ice bucket at his brother's wedding.