Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Foster Baby Takes a Vacation

I must apologize for the weeks of quiet here in Paradise. We've been gone, you see. And re-entry is a bitch.

Let's get up to speed.

When last I wrote, we were leaving on our vacation. But you didn't know that. I wasn't sure if I wanted to go, to be honest. The last time we went on a vacation while we had a foster case, we weren't allowed to bring the baby and she was transferred to a new home the day before we left. I almost had a nervous breakdown. I lay on the couch and sobbed for hours before we left for the airport, heartsick over my little charge and imagining her wondering where she was, and why she had a new mama. It was a really dark, confusing time.

So as our date of departure neared this time around, my panic was almost palpable. I had cancelled our summer vacation, because we could not get permission to travel with Ella and I refused to have her transferred to a new foster home. I would not do it. This time, this case, this child was going to be different. After we cancelled that trip, I tentatively planned to go in the fall - and this time her mother said it was okay for us to bring Ella. Miraculously, Ella's father agreed, and we booked our tickets immediately. However, I soon learned that agreeing the baby can travel, and signing the permission slip, are two different things. This permission slip is a much bigger deal than the one you sign to allow your child on a school field trip. And as with everything in foster care, nothing is for sure until it is signed and notarized and approved by the court.

Saying we could go was nice, but I needed signatures.

And I didn't have them.

Then I heard that Ella's father had signed. I let myself hope. I bought Ella a hat and a jacket. Socks. Leggings. Warm clothes for the New England weather. I waited. I needed one more signature. I didn't want to get too excited. I had been down this road before. We got a court date. I submitted all of the travel information. I waited.

I was leaving in less than 3 weeks.

Ella's mother was gone. Her phone was shut off, she didn't answer the door, we heard she had moved but no one knew where. Everyone was looking for her.

I was leaving in 2 weeks.

Out of nowhere, she called a week later. She wanted to see Ella. We had court in 4 days. She said she would be there. I did not have her signature.

And then the day came. Our hearing was in the morning so I got up early. I brought Ella to a friend's house. I dressed in my most respectable mom attire. I drove to the courthouse with shaking hands. I was leaving in 48 hours.

When I walked through the metal detector outside the circuit court, Ella's father was there. I stood in the hall, full of people . I sat on the hard bench, leaned back against the cold granite. Anxious. Would her mother show up? Would she say I couldn't take her with us?

I watched everyone who got off the elevator. Not her. Not her. Not her.

I stood up when the case was called. I hugged a friend who was there for work and had found me in the crowd. I smiled at some familiar faces. I walked into the courtroom alone.

As the case began, I sat, silent. My heart was in my throat. The court reporter looked up, recognized me, gave a small wave. A tear ran down my cheek. My hands were clenched together, gripping the paperwork I had printed out the night before with our flight information.

Her mother wasn't there.

The lawyer - my lawyer, I suppose, stood up. Told the judge we were traveling in a few days and wanted Ella with us. Around the room others stood up, one by one, in agreement. We came to the last person in the room. Her mom's lawyer. She did not say no. She did not say yes.

More tears.
Hands clenched tighter.

The judge asked a few questions. Ella's father answered. Yes sir. No sir.
Everyone took notes.

And then he said yes. He didn't just say yes, of course, he said something formal and official for the record, but all I cared about was that he meant yes.

Yes we could go.
Yes we could bring Ella.
Yes she would stay with me.

I covered my mouth. My shoulders sagged. I looked across the courtroom and found Ella's father watching me.

"Thank you" I said.
He nodded. "You're welcome."

He was excused, and as he walked past me he stopped. I held out my arms. And we hugged, awkwardly, but still. A real hug. He stood up and walked out of the courtroom, slinging his backpack over one shoulder as the door swung shut behind him.

Two days later we boarded a plane. All of us. Even Ella.

The trip was a whirlwind, but the one steady in all of it was our beautiful children - all three of them - who despite a 6 hour time difference and a grueling travel schedule, were well behaved, eager to try new things, happy to see family again, and content in the backseat for long stretches of time playing road trip bingo and staring agog as we flew through the EZ Pass lanes at the tollbooths - which is the height of bad-ass excitement for island kids.

The tolls were $110.00.
I counted.

And the next thing I knew, we were on a plane again. Just Ella and I, this time. Flying back home at the end of our trip, the court documents still in the outside pocket of the diaper bag ready to show at a moment's notice.

Ironically, that paperwork I had waited so long for and worried so much about ended up being totally unnecessary for my travels. No one asked to see it. Not even once.

Maybe no one asked because they couldn't imagine anyone but an actual mother voluntarily traveling alone for 22 hours with an infant. Maybe they didn't want to stop the lady trying to board the plane with a sleeping baby strapped to her chest, lugging her carry on and her personal item, plus the stroller, to ask if she could find a document proving she was supposed to travel with that baby. Maybe they didn't want to bother the wild-eyed, sleep-deprived woman who finally handed the baby to a total stranger so that she could use the plane's bathroom without a baby on her lap toilet-papering the cubicle and flushing the toilet repeatedly. Maybe they watched me circling the airport while I tried to stay awake during both of my 3 hour layovers in two different time zones and thought better of asking me for anything.

All I know is that, during that trip, I had just a moment - just a tiny flicker, mind you - of wondering why the hell I had wanted this so badly.

But then I looked down, and smiled, and it all came rushing back.
She is an excellent traveling companion, this one.

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