It was like preparing to lose your hearing when a crowd of people rush at you and stab out your eyes.
The dream of adoption had flown long ago; we distantly hoped it would return another time. We knew it was not the end of this story and that we were the best she had for now and now was enough for all of us. We knew that our hearts and attention would follow whatever journey she was on and we would be there for her as long as we were allowed, until the last transitional visit, until the last court date and document served. We loved her to a painful degree; she taught us new depths of being parents. We knew we were not equipped for such a long building and deconstruction; we did not do things perfectly. But we were here, and we would try, and we would be okay. Just as long as she was.
Mentally there was a running document of notes about her behaviors, her preferences, her story and what they would need to know to become her full-time caregivers. I sorted and boxed too-small clothes and tiny little socks based on what she would need for a complete keepsake collection, what they would need to piece together the months they had missed and continue the story as seamlessly as possible. The impending goodbye added a sepia glow to our Every Day with her. We were protectors of her truth, and tried to face the future with courage.
The day it happened she attended a church planting meeting with me. Donned in a new bloomer one piece with scalloped trim and lacy edges, she showed off her crawling and meticulous fine motor skills around the meeting room. She would not go too far before returning happily to me for a snuggle, and then she was off again. She rested in the carrier on my chest to and from the meeting. I didn’t leave her with my willing, competent neighbors who had offered to watch her, though not knowing it would be our last day together.
Around the time I was admiring her joyful spirit and crawling antics, a mandated reporter had made a call about us. It was a call based on heresy, manipulation and perhaps politics and discrimination. It was not handled in a timely manner by the Department (of Child and Family Services) and became the night worker’s duty. After seeing a movie with a couple of girlfriends late that night, I found a harrowing message on my phone. I could barely understand the words but there was something about coming by, abuse, and police. I called the night worker back right away.
Unsuspecting of how wrong wrong could get, we swung our door open, having nothing to hide, believing the truth would prevail and this would be over soon. No one’s concerns were alarmed. No question was left unanswered. She said there were no red flags. The police assured us that removal was not on the horizon. But still the worker had different ideas. Promises of temporary, of return, of resolution were given. A sleepy girl peered at us with confusion from an unfamiliar, illegally installed carseat. The nightmare had begun.
We never dreamt that one man’s phoned-in report could have such a traumatic, irreversible effect on a child and a family when put into the right hands. It didn’t matter that the reporter never answered another phone call or message over the course of the month-long investigation. It didn’t matter that we too were mandated reporters, had 8 months of 2-4 visits with various people each week in which no one raised an eyebrow, and had around 20 households willingly write letters vouching for our home and 5-person family system. It didn’t matter that our other children were spoken to 6 times without one suggestive word or mark, that all our interviews and home visits that followed were clean, consistent, and convincing.
It also didn’t matter that there was no evidence at any point of the investigation to verify the allegation. It didn’t matter that the night worker did not understand her own paperwork and wrote the allegation in the interview notes, indicating that we verified the accusations on paper while assuring us verbally that it was just the spot to write the report that had sent her there. It didn’t matter that the women with whom we could not communicate clearly about turning the light on or off had the future of our family and for-now baby in her hands. All the real things didn’t matter while all the pretend things towered and overcame, like monsters.
We knew she wouldn’t sleep here forever, or really for long in terms of an entire childhood. But to that point, she had spent almost her entire life in these walls and in these arms. She had been sheltered from a great deal of confusion and upset because while plans came and went and proposals rose and fell, her life didn’t have to follow the tossing. Her life was stable; she could focus on toys and sleeping and what to do with Cheerios. We were happy, no, eager, to provide that buffer until permanency was reached. We had wanted the honor and responsibility of mitigating her losses in this busted up world and system.
And then the eye-stabbing came.
Then she truly experienced neglect and trauma. Middle of the night removal. Middle of the weekend institutional placement. Middle of late infancy attachment re-placement. Middle of transition at 3 week point, re-placement yet again. After leaving her thus-far home, she slept in 3 places. She was fed poorly in the first couple of days under the Department’s care, despite my sending food and bottles, which was despite the night worker’s discouragement. She was not allowed any transitional, monitored visits with us. She was spoken of and treated like a blank piece of paper because 8+ months of a 9 month non-verbal life was meaningless and unmoving to the decision-makers. It just didn’t matter.
Oh how we would have loved to lose our hearing.