It always starts the same. The four of us sit at a small round table in a quiet, white room. No caseworkers. No attorneys. No kids. We’re visibly nervous but feel safe enough to say so. We disarm each other with cordial greetings and honest handshakes. T’s father’s typical glare and grunt are absent, replaced by smiling eyes and complete sentences. I’m grateful and relieved.
We take care of the basics first – T’s favorite food – grits, his favorite color – pink, his book of the moment – One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish, his most-watched movie – Cars, the song he has on repeat – Maxwell’s cover of This Woman’s Work.
In this day dream – this recurring fantasy – the parents are ready with laughter and get a big kick out of my description of T’s dancing – an exuberant combination of styles I’ll call “Seinfeld’s Elaine Meets 80s Break Dancing”.
We talk about T’s life – his friendships, travels, adventures and more.
I tell them about T and N, his buddy from way back in the summer of ’08. They became instant friends the day we took T to the zoo for the first time. We were there to see Samson, the new baby elephant.
Juan, T and I were at the elephant compound when T suddenly turned, ran up to a stroller and gave the inhabitant a big hug. It was like he was greeting an old friend.
Since that day, they have been two toddler-sized peas in the pod.
Like the best of friends, they get on each others nerves every now and then. T loves to push N’s buttons and (hopefully N’s two mom’s won’t mind me saying this) N’s buttons aren’t all that hard to push.
We flip through pictures of T’s travels, stopping to marvel at his adventurous side.
We tell them about the first time he rode Houston. We all have a good laugh at the larger-than-life grin on T’s face. He was so proud of himself that day.
The highlight of one of the trips was T driving the big tractor. No doubt, John Deere continues to be one of his favorite truck makers, and T knows his cars and trucks.
We tell them that T is probably one of the few toddlers in America who has actually been inside a record store. His love of vinyl records and turntables is surpassed only by his love of cars and trains.
We go over T’s bedtime ritual – potty, pajamas, the brushing of teeth, books and goodnight wishes to all his friends. Thanks to family and friends, T has acquired an impressive number of stuffed animals over the 2 1/2 years he’s been with us. I don’t remember when, but at some point very early on, saying goodnight to each and every animal became the thing to do. The night usually ends something like this…
“good night, monkey…good night dragon…good night dolphin…good night, tiggert…good night, bunny rabbit…good night, blue bear…good night, other blue bear…good night, doggie…good night, big doggie…good night, spongebob…good night, cookie monster…good night, elmo…good night, other monkey…good night, polar bear…good night lightning mcqueen…and…good night to T!”
We admit that we never took the time to come up with decent names for most of his little friends.
We finish our talk much like the way it began – with more basics. He wears 2T bottoms but 3T tops. He likes to stuff his mouth with food and chewing is usually an afterthought. The dentist scene in Finding Nemo scares the crap out of him. He wilts in the heat. He has yet to see a movie on the big screen. Cheese binds him up.
The fantasy fast-forwards through the goodbyes. Juan and I are at home, getting ready for bed, when the phone rings. It’s T’s mother. She has called to tell us that they’ve decided to let T stay. They say they realize how hard it would be on him to leave the world he has known for so long. They want what is best for him, even if that means reunification doesn’t happen. At the end of this fantasy phone call, I’m too stunned to speak and too happy for words.
The fantasy fast-forwards again to Happily Ever After.
I know, of course, that none of this will come true. The initial meetings with T’s parents about his transition home will be like walking through an emotional mindfield. We’ll all be on the defense to varying degrees, watching and waiting for slights – real or imagined. I doubt there’ll be lots of laughter and I’m guessing no one is going to feel particularly safe, at least at first. And I know better than to expect some epiphany on their part. There will be no late night phone call. No change of heart.
The transition will start soon. In fact, by this time tomorrow – as the permanency plan review hearing ends – we’ll probably have some idea of what we might expect in terms of his return in the next few months.
Soon, our very real life with T will come to an end. In some ways, perhaps we’ve been living a fantasy all along.