April 5, 2017
Our caseworker emails us. She is cancelling weekly visitations with our foster kids and their bio parents, Chrissy** and Jay.
Then, a second email comes in. The DA sent the paperwork to the court. The judge signs off. The caseworker calls Chrissy and tells her the hard news.
It’s official. Our foster children’s bio parents have no rights to the kids. That will not change. Our babies are officially freed for adoption.
I sit on that for awhile. I instagram it with a photo of the baby. I write:
It’s official: our kid’s bio mom and dad have lost their parental rights. I am happy for our kids who have a family now, and us, because we love them so much, but that happiness is tempered by knowing the cost of everything that has happened to them. I also am thinking about bio mom, and all that she has lost because her life is a true, true mess. Even bad parents love their babies. And kids still love their parents even when they’re shitty at parenting. Today I am aware of love and family and all it’s sky-high joy, and its complications and contradictions. Onward to adoption.
Then I pick up the phone, find Chrissy’s number and, not knowing what to say, I write:
Hi. How are you?
This is a wide-open question. I have no idea what she’ll say. If she’ll even write back. She just got a job working at 7-11, her first in eight years. I doubt she will hang onto it for long. Predictability, showing up, consistency of any kind is not her strong suit. She is pregnant again, something she told me two weeks ago. If we were to have a visit next week, before it was cancelled, I was going to bring her folic acid and prenatal vitamins. But now, I know, I won’t see her to give them to her, so she won’t have any.
Not that prenatals can stop what might happen to this in-utero baby.
Chrissy says she has to get out of town soon, before she starts showing, so DCFS doesn’t take her baby. And she is right, of course. Now that her rights have been taken away, every baby she has in Nevada will be taken from her. DCFS will, by law, NOT have to go through a protracted reunification process.
They will never let her keep this baby. Nor should they.
So, she’ll move, disappear, hide, and fuck-up this kid as long as she can get away with it. Until they, or some agency in another state, find her again.
She texts me back from a number I don’t recognize.
Hey Kim, this is my state phone. I can only cry and call. I can’t get video/picture mail on here….But I’m doing okay.
She goes on to blame her caseworker for her losing the kids. She tells me she feels “stupid” about the whole thing. Like it was a terrible practical joke and she fell for it.
She goes dark for a few days and I check in again.
How are you?
Okay, she writes back.
She asks me to send photos of the kids to yet another number I don’t recognize. The phone issue has thrown her life into chaos. Or really, her life is in chaos and the phone thing is a symptom. Chrissy and Jay routinely have their phones stolen and it takes days into weeks to wrangle new ones.
I shoot photos all weekend, intending them for her. When Edie, feelings hurt, says “Why aren’t you taking photos of me?” I tell her, “These are for Chrissy.”
She gets it, but stomps away.
But I never get to send them. I never get to text Chrissy at all.
In fact, these are the last conversations I have with her.
My children’s bio mother dies.
I get the call around 3:30pm the day after. It’s Jay. Jay is the baby’s bio dad, but has been in our son’s life for as long as he can remember. Jay is hysterical. He is so upset I can’t tell whether he is laughing or crying, whether this is a happy call or a sad one. But he never calls me like this, so it can’t be good.
We were watching movies, he tells me. Chrissy, Jay, and her fiancee, all watching movies together.
I’m listening. I’m pacing in the street barefoot, scared to be in the house in case the kids might see my face and demand to know what’s happening. They want to be in the middle of everything.
We thought she fell asleep…I tried to wake her up….but blood came out of her mouth, he can barely get the words out.
I gave her CPR, but at the hospital she was brain dead. They let her go….
I’m stunned and freaked out. I don’t know why, but it hits me hard, like I’m being impaled through the gut. I feel the world go gray. The sorrow I feel for her – 28-years-old – life over, never achieving much (except for these kids) is a hard nugget in the middle of me.
How will I tell our boy? I think.
Tell me the truth, I say in my most serious voice, Was she doing drugs? Drugs she wasn’t supposed to be doing?
I know the answer.
Morphine….I told her not to take those anymore. I told her.
Jesus. How do you get to be 28-years-old and popping morphine while you are hanging out watching movies? While you are pregnant? How does that happen? How does it fall apart like that so fast?
He says the end for her was losing the kids.
Are you saying she did this on purpose? I ask. I’m defensive.
Is this on me? I’m thinking.
No, No I don’t think so, he says, but he is bewildered, not sure of anything.
I told her she can have a relationship wth the kids, Jason, I say.
…Even though her rights were terminated. I told her. Didn’t she know that?
Yes…I don’t know…
He cries some more.
The next thing you know I’m talking to David in the bedroom, telling him about her. And I start to cry, hard, like I come undone. David pulls me in and I cry into his shoulder. The kids are all out on the trampoline, just outside the bedroom door, laughing, jumping.
I’m thinking a lot about how the funeral home won’t talk to me. I mean, I’m no one to them.
Stacy, at the funeral home, is a complete bitch to me, after she finally takes my call. Obviously the drug addicts have been calling the funeral home and she is done with them.
Jay stops returning my calls.
I won’t call Chrissy’s meth-head-biker-fiancee, or whatever he is, who has beaten her up in the past. I feel the danger of him from across town. He scares me.
I remember when Chrissy sent me the photos. What he had done to her face and body – bruises, welts, soft brown and blue indentations in her skin. And then, two days later, she brings him to a weekly visit with the kids at McDonalds. He gets loud and in her face while she’s holding the baby, and it so freaks me out, I run into the play area, snatch the baby and shut down the visit. From then on, we meet for supervised visits at the Visitation Center at DCFS.
Now his Facebook says they are married. Hers says she is engaged. Jay tells me in a text he was still with Chrissy. He says they all live together in the same roach-infested trailer park. It’s all just quagmire and deception, their whole lives. But I don’t want to speak to the meth-biker-dude because she overdosed on his watch. I want to blame him for the shitty choices she’s made that have impacted her kids, but I know it’s all her. She made these choices. He is only a recent player.
I wonder in my journal if anyone will show up for Chrissy. If there will be a service. A celebration to remember her, all the light she put into the world before her light went out, before drugs and abuse and the shitty life she led with her drug-addicted friends and her torn relationships.
I want to celebrate her some way. I want the kids to see her celebrated.
But Funeral-Home-Stacy is not letting me near Chrissy.
Then, the biker-meth-head-abuser-fiance-husband calls me. He calls me on her temp phone, but because I had put her in my contacts, her name is blinking out at me.
Like she is talking to me from the dead.
I have Chrissy’s sister here. Can she speak with you?
I am a known bio parent Facebook stalker. It’s a gift and a curse. I do it with all my foster kids. Sometimes it gives me an idea where the kids come from, and how the parents are faring. After Chrissy dies, I’m on Facebook checking out meth-head biker dude’s feed. I see that her sister, Jane, has commented on a post where meth-head-abuser-biker has announced his fake marriage to Chrissy. Jane, identifies herself as Chrissy’s sister, and asks him to PM her.
I do what any self-respecting stalker would do and I follow her page back to her profile. Jane is so pretty, older than bio mom. She has three nearly-grown, beautiful kids. She has a business. She goes to school. She is in a relationship. She has drinks out with girlfriends. You can tell she loves the hell out of her kids. Her life looks insanely normal – I wonder how many strings Chrissy cut before Jane pulled up stakes and refused to let Chrissy bring her down.
Jane is crying on the phone.
She is surrounded by crazy people in the trailer park. She is looking for her mother’s ashes, which Chrissy stole years ago, hording them in her piles of junk. She is surrounded by the crazy I know so well. Meth-head-abuser-biker dude says Jay killed Chrissy. Jay says meth-head-abusive-biker dude pushed pills down her throat. Jane has to threaten to call the police to get the crazy people to turn over her mother’s ashes.
I can tell Jane is drowning. That she had no idea Chrissy’s life fell so far down the hole. It is all a horrible shock.
And she has no idea where Chrissy’s kids are. She tries calling DCFS, but they shut her out. They tell her Chrissy’s rights are terminated, as are the rights of the rest of the family. Emma’s Law prevents biological families from appearing out of the woodwork and claiming kids who are already settled into families. DCFS tells her nothing. Jay tells her he supports us adopting the kids. But she wants to see them.
I think she needs to see them. With her own eyes. I think she imagines them in the trailer park with her mother’s ashes.
Jane and I connect on Facebook and I see a post where she asks for prayers for my kids. The post is from days ago before we talk on the phone, before she knows the kids are okay. I so get why she is scared for them, but seeing the post rattles me. People send prayers. Some woman named Laurie writes, I’d take them in a heart beat! And I’m thinking, Yo, Laurie, these are my kids. These are my friggin’ kids. You can’t have my kids, Laurie.
Poor Laurie. She’s just trying to be sweet. I mean, I would probably say the same thing.
But I’m still mad and crazy-scared, so I take to my journal and I write down, intensely and with so much fear and ferocity, all the ways we have become family to each other, and it occurs to me, Jane will try to take my kids. (How could she not? I mean my kids are awesome.) And it fills me with such fear and dread and anger that I can barely breathe. I walk around like I have a lightning rod through me. I can’t sit because I feel like I should be doing something. I pace, and I’m short with the kids, and I picture my life without them all and I feel like my lungs will explode.
I take to a foster parent Facebook group and ask, Can they take my kids?
I get all sorts of paranoid, guarded answers about protecting the kids, and circling the wagons, and Emma’s Law, and hiring lawyers and, shutting out the bio family, and being at the will of Family Court judges, and all of it feels weird and hostile and unnecessary.
And then a wise lady named, Wren writes, ....my kid’s bio grandma was at our adoption, but we are weird that way.
And David says, Most of the time, things work out okay.
And these two things set me right: Most of the time things work out okay, and I want to be weird that way.
So I decide: My goal is to have my kid’s bio family at our adoption.
We invite jane to our house. I send her my address and ask her to please not give it to the meth-head-abuser-biker-fiance and the others and she writes back, I am never speaking to them again in my life…I don’t want them near those kids.
I like her before I even meet her.
It’s the middle of the night. The night before Jane, and a few other family members, come to our house. I can’t sleep.
I’m scared to death they will try to take them from us.
It’s easier to be angry, then sad. Because the saddness is so much.
I mean to make the bio family breakfast, but I can’t pull it together.
But the house is clean and I haven’t spilled tea down the front of me. The kids are relatively clean. David is mountain biking, but he calls me 4 times during the morning, so I know he is eager too. I tell myself to be open, like wide open, to expect the best of people, and I remember that these are the family of my children and I will love them because I love the kids, and they, and we, are all connected.
When I change my mindset and think of them, as all of us, being on the same team, I feel the love coming out of me. This is the right way to go. I want to hug these people.
I should’ve done this more in my life, I think. Note to self for the future.
They say they will be here between 8:30 and 9am. They are at the door at the crack of 8:30, so I know they are eager too.
There are a bunch of them. Jane, Chrissy’s sister, Jill, Chrissy’s godmother, Annie, Chrissy’s cousin, and her partner Billy and her 5-year-old son. The boys – newly minted cousins – run off together, barely heard from again.
We hug. We introduce. We have small talk where we let each other know we are normal and nice, and then Jane suggests we sit out on the patio, and I’m mortified because I haven’t dusted off the cushions, but I see they do not care. Like they truly do not care about my housekeeping. They are not judging me. They make me at ease in my own home. They are broads. I see it, especially Chrissy’s godmother. They are spirited, strong women, kind, loving, open. I love them before they even sit on my dusty patio furniture.
And we just start talking. And it’s not dumb conversations. We talk about the kids, what they’ve been through. We talk about Chrissy’s childhood. Tonapah, where it all seemed to go wrong for her. We talked about how they saw the photos of the kids on Facebook (the pics I took and sent Chrissy) and how they thought the kids were okay with their mother. We talked about how the coroner said she wasn’t really pregnant. So many lies, uncovered, excavated and seen for the truth. We talked about how they had to create space for themselves away from Chrissy, because she was so unhealthy. They talked about how hard that struggle was and the guilt they have now. We are all asking, Could we have done more?, but every answer we turn to, the answer is no. She was so far gone.
Then, because they are so open, we start talking about the kids and the future.
Do you want to adopt them? Jane asks.
Is that what you and David want?
Yes, we want to adopt them, I say. We love them.
They’re our babies…I say.
And then I add: But we want your blessing. We want you to be there at the adoption. We want you in the their lives and our lives.
And here’s where this plays like a movie. There is hugging and crying, and this understanding that out of all the shit, out of all the crazy ugliness, something good – something really good and healthy – has come.
There is never a funeral. We choose to honor Chrissy this way.
These are the last words Jay texts me. His phone is stolen, he says, so we are texting on his “Obama Phone”, no videos and photos.
I text. I offer to meet him so he can see the kids. I tell him our boy would like to visit, that it would good for both of them to process the loss of Chrissy together.
He never texts back.
I think how lucky he is to be able to see these kids, after his rights have been terminated, and how stupid he is for not taking me up on it.
His loss. Big time. Done texting.
He is not their only biological family anymore.
For our boy, and eventually the baby, this grief thing is going to be a life-long process.
He doesn’t have the immediate questions, like who will put me to sleep? Or who will feed me? Chrissy never did any of those things, that he remembers. But the long, on-going questions, they linger.
He sleeps with the blanket Chrissy and Jay gave him. He sleeps with “Puppy”, a soft, floppy-eared dog they gave him during one of their visits at DCFS. I make him a memory box with photos and things I kept from her, that he mostly likes to sit in.
He doesn’t talk about it much the first few weeks, even though I check in often, but now he is starting to ask the big questions. Like, why?
I tell him, Mommy was very sick, and she took medicine to help her pain, but she took too much. She was watching a movie, and went to sleep and her body stopped working.
Someday we will tell him everything. But not now.
He wants to know about her heart, and her brain, and how they slowed down and stopped working. He wants to know about the movie.
He says with a lot of confidence, People can die while watching movies.
And so now we have to unravel the connections between watching movies and dying. I wonder if I was too specific? We are trying to decipher what he is thinking as he says things. I’m trying to find the right words.
He says to David, I’ll have to get a new family if you and Mommy and Lucy and Edie die….
David answers him, We won’t die for a long, long time. You will always be with us. We will always love you.
Now we have to stay alive and keep that promise.
I see him walking his scooter on the street, going to a friend’s house. He is making the ASL sign for “I love you.” He, Chrissy and Jay used to say goodbye at visits with that sign, their hands touching.
Chrissy is never too far away.
This is so weird to write – I realize how much I miss Chrissy.
Half the time, our relationship was me railing at her, in my head, for her erratic drug addict behavior, for hurting our boy at visits by her various absurd and toxic actions. But Chrissy and I had this one thing that bonded us – me sending her photos and videos of the kids.
I started doing it for her. I kept doing it, partly, for me.
I want to share these moments with someone. I want someone else to see the baby saying new words, like “headband” and our boy tearing it up on the BMX track. I want to send someone 32 videos of the baby saying, abo-cow-doe (avocado) and love it as much as I do.
David might kill me if I send him 32 videos of the kids, while he’s working, but Chrissy had hours to fill and wanted to see them as much as I wanted to send them. One mom to another.
I missed that when she died, the way we bonded together over the kids.
But then Jane steps in. She wants to see tons of pics of the kids. She wants to make up for lost years. She wants to be in their lives. She wants them to mean something to her, and her to them.
So I send them to Jane now. Maybe not 32 videos a day, but enough. And if it annoys her, she hasn’t complained.
And a hole in me has been patched.
We are getting ready to go to the park with Annie and our boy’s newly-found cousin, who he adores. We are all making good on the promise to stay in touch, send photos, be present in each other’s lives. More family = more love, the whole thing.
He is asking me about babies, and I tell him they grow in mommy’s tummies.
I didn’t grow in a tummy.
Yes, you did, I say.
You grew in Mommy Chrissy’s tummy.
No, I didn’t, he says. I’m from Child Haven.
He is talking about the emergency shelter in Vegas where kids live until they are reunited with birth parents or move to foster homes. He had done two long hard stints there.
No baby, you don’t remember but when you were very little you came from Chrissy’s tummy.
No, Mommy, I grew in Child Haven.
And then he skips away, and I let him go.
He has the last word on his own life.
** All names (except for David and I) have been changed to protect privacy.