The room at DSHS Children and Family Services was about 8’ square, and painted an imitation baby blue, with plastic stick-on baby Disney characters around the top of the walls. The room held the sickly smell of fruity disinfectant peculiar to governmental institutions – someone’s idea of dressing up clean where clean could never be – trying to cover up the splat and imprint of toxic emotions that no scrubbed on detergent could ever wash away.Muffled cries and shouts of confusion, anger, fear, and grief seeped through the walls from adjoining rooms where recalcitrant and belligerent parents pleaded with caseworkers for the return of their strung out and exhausted young children. Doors slammed and raging, disheveled parents swore as they paced the hallways. Caseworkers followed and tried to calm and contain them. I felt dizzy and faintly nauseous. Following the lead, I entered the room where the caseworker sat at a small round table with a 12” stack of files in front of her. Stunned and intimidated, I asked if all of those files pertained to Camaro. Nodding apologetically, she explained that this was all she could put her hands on at the time, but that she would show me the rest of them another time. She hoped that all we needed for the purposes of this first meeting would be found in the stack she had brought. As I was realizing that I really should have listened to my mother – gotten married and done this with another adult – my caseworker gave me a friendly shove to keep me moving and I squeezed around to the back of the table. Hemmed in by the caseworkers on one side and the foster parents on the other, I felt as if there wasn’t enough air in the entire city for what I needed in order to survive. All eyes started by looking to me, and I had no idea where to begin or what to say.
I kept expecting some sort of test. Sure, I had filled out pages and pages of application forms. I had answered more questions than I had in the 5 years of undergraduate and graduate school combined. I had been through classes and interviews; had written my biography; and had shown and explained every nook and cranny of my home to several people who took copious notes on what I ate, how well I cooked and how I spent my money. I answered questions about how I filled my time and my views on discipline and education.I had been grilled on my upbringing and my plans for the future. I had checked lots of boxes on huge lists of attributes and abilities and disabilities that I was willing to consider and not willing to consider in a future son or daughter. I had read books and books on every aspect of fostering and adoption that I could lay my hands on. I had remodeled my apartment to accommodate the rules and regulations that needed to be met regarding bedrooms and stairs and bathtubs and square footage per child and basic safety. I had made arrangements with my principal at school, and had tentative childcare plans. I had slowly, over the course of a year, extricated myself from all of my extracurricular and volunteer positions. I had spent countless hours pouring through bulging 3” binders in which every sheet of paper contained a photo and descriptive paragraph of a child or sibling group in need of a permanent home. I had met Camaro and thought long and hard about whether or not this was the right thing to do. In short, I was as ready as anyone could possibly be. But sitting there, none of that mattered one tiny bit anymore when weighed against the gravity of the situation. How does one prepare to make such profound changes regarding the life of an innocent child, and how in heaven’s name can you ever do anything more than cross your fingers and take your best guess?
Sitting there, the realization washed over me that there was no test forthcoming, and that the system was as simple as someone jumping though all of the hoops, all the while showing interest and enthusiasm. Once done, all one need ask for is any particular child – any one among hundreds, and someone would be very grateful and relieved to hand them over. What kind of world is this??
I honestly don’t remember much from the meeting until the end. I guess we chatted about Camaro, I shared a bit more about me, the foster parents grilled me some more, and then we set up an initial visitation time (a week hence) where I would go to Cam’s foster home and spend the day with him. The plan was that then the foster parents and I would take it from there until we reached a mutual “moving in” day at some point in the future weeks or months. Somehow it was all settled, and suddenly I wasn’t entirely sure I had made the right decision. I was even sort of wondering if I had made a decision at all. I was suddenly overcome with that feeling I call “Vous-ja-de” – the sudden and exceedingly clear realization that you have never ever done anything like this before in your whole life. I was scared stiff.
As we were getting up from the table, another caseworker entered the room to talk to his co-worker. We all sat back down and waited. At the end of the short conversation, Camaro’s caseworker then turned to me and said “Before you go, you should know that Camaro does have a younger sister, named Luna, that he is very attached to. She’s 2 1/2 and also lives in the same foster home, but is not yet legally free. She does not appear to have any extraordinary needs, and the State is still looking to reunite the family, but in the event that it isn’t possible, she will be available for adoption. The two children are only 19 months apart in age and are very bonded to each other. Would you consider adopting her as well, if she were available at some point in the future?” Answering as if someone had just offered me a free ottoman to go with my new living room chair, I replied that of course I would. What else could or would I have said? With that, the meeting was over and we left. Stunned, and with my mind kind of blown, I followed my private agency caseworker out the door. I was glad she had driven – I was shaking too much to drive.