Saturday, January 8, 2011

Saturday Musings, 08 January 2011

Good morning,

I raise the shade which hangs between me and the neighbors' house, and see the distant, shivering trees, stripped of their coverings, rising into the pale sky. On the horizon to the north, a yellow house with its angled roof sits beneath a power line. Beyond, I see the grey gables of a Craftsman bungalow huddling between the spindly trunks of two second-growth oaks. My neighborhood -- a different perspective, north in the weak wintry morning.

I attended a meeting at a faith-based organization which contracts to perform the services of a Missouri governmental agency yesterday, and I am still nauseous. I would like to say that I held my tongue, but I did not. As the workers kept us waiting for fifteen minutes past the allotted starting time, I surveyed the collection of grandparents, birthparents, fosterparents and lawyers. "So," I ventured. "Where do all of you all stand on the separation of Church and state?" One grandfather, looming large across the tiled floor, waved his cane at me. Exactly! he thundered. He shifted his arthritic girth in the rigid plastic chair, and briefly rolled his eyes towards the receptionist. Nothing personal intended, but I don't get it, never have. Why is this here outfit doing what the state's supposed to do? The birthfather, seated near me, added a thought. My kids' mother and I never got married. These folks don't believe in that, and I feel them judging me. How can I trust them?

Silence descended again on the small, desperate group gathered to hear what the workers 'planned' for two adorable boys unfortunately caught in state care because of their parents' drug use. The father has been clean for a solid six months; the mother supposedly still has not begun recovery. It has been a long two years for the family, and working on a third. Trial will occur in February. The "state", in the person of its faith-based contract organization, has defied the judge's order to plan for reunification, and has had a "concurrent plan" for adoption, though none of the law-abiding dedicated grandparents have been given services pursuant to this plan. We don't know who has, but we suspect it is the foster-family, the husband of which got a special green Visitor's Badge at yesterday's meeting, presumably to quickly distinguish the saved from the hopeless in the event of an evacuation.

This morning, my mind insists on staying stubbornly in the present. I hold myself still but memories elude me. Perhaps the warm fuzzies which I have been accused of favoring seem too saccharine in contrast to the world in which I spend my workaday hours. Perhaps the crises of my past, which normally make just as lively reading as the pleasures, lose their importance beside the cancer of a friend's mother, the death of an acquaintance's grandmother, and the febrile seizures of the one-year-old grandchild of someone whom I dearly love. Life takes its feather duster and swipes with determination at my cranial cobwebs. The stories scatter, falling to the pile in the dustpan, under the rug, into the cold air return in the back halls of my mind.

I regaled a suite-mate with wild descriptions of the afternoon's events on return from the meeting yesterday. I cannot abide these self-perpetuating bureaucracies! I fumed. I recounted how the agency's attorney refused to answer the birthmother's questions. We prefer to talk with your lawyer about that, he parried. At his evasion, I raised my eyes from the legal pad on which I had been scribbling meaningless notes to distract myself from tempting but careless expressions of disgust. Was her attorney invited to this meeting? I asked, with seriousness but hardly from ignorance. I myself had been omitted from the invitation list, an oversight that the group bemoaned with nearly believable, wide, accidental eyes. I don't know, I assume she was, the man replied. He tossed an imploring glance at his client's representative, who could not hide the small, reluctant shake of her head. Aha. Another blunder, to parallel the omission of the court's mandated plan of reunification from the printed agency report, an oversight blamed on "software error".

My suite-mate, who also happens to be my future husband, listened to my tirade with a small smile of his own, sitting quietly at his computer. When I paused, perhaps to draw a breath, he spoke in gentle tones. Watch out, he suggested. You are starting to sound like a Republican. Presumably, he had forgotten that reliance on faith-based groups is a Republican proclivity. He meant, of course, that my seeming outrage at governmental involvement in these folks lives suggested a non-Democratic orientation.

But that is not my point. My anger rises not because the state has involved itself in the lives of two children born testing positive for methamphetamine.

My trigger trips with the combined weight of the state's abdication of its duties to a faith-based organization, and that organization's abuse of its delegated power. Every step of this long journey gives rise to another illustration of the workers' disdain for everyone involved, from the most circumspect court-appointed attorney whose e-mails are disregarded, to the birthfather whom the state's lawyers insist on addressing in a mocking voice by his given name, a habit taught to law enforcement as a tool for degradation of suspects during interrogation. The mannerisms of these state agents reflect their overall goal of splintering this family -- their "concurrent plan for TPR and adoption", served by strategies and tactics diametrically opposed to the court's plan of reunification: false and unsupportable accusations against the grandparents, which cause them to incur more legal fees seeking exoneration; removal of the children from a daycare to which they were well-adjusted, for the sake of a short-term placement in a religious but terrible foster home, leading to more upheaval and fear on the part of these precious little guys; unexpected rescheduling of meetings; failure to invite key players to the new settings; continued use of unreliable third-party service providers; peremptory threats to schedule hearings or depositions without regard to others' dockets; snotty comments in open court, directed to parties or their attorneys by state employees; the list is endless.

I often remind myself that nothing I have suffered rises to the level of the worst pain, the most frightening poverty, the sheerest, starkest realization of pending and unavoidable demise. On days when I feel so bad that I want to throw a chair through a plate glass window, I tell myself: Think of everything you have been given, and everything you have been spared. This week, at the top of my list of horrors not visited upon me, are the companion evils of being, or being at the mercy of, a small-minded social worker in a track suit, a tank top and a training bra, sitting squat and insufferable in a dingy, crowded conference room, holding a defective print-out of the plan to strip someone of their parental rights.

My coffee has grown cold while I have been writing. My neck protests when I raise it from the angle at which it must tilt to see the screen to accommodate my failing eyesight. I gaze, just for a moment, at the thin white smear of cloud stretched across the expanse of sky over my neighbor's roof. It will not rain today; nor will it snow. But the cold has settled in my joints, and for the rest of the day, I will best survive by counting my many blessings, and making cup after cup of tea; Earl Grey; hot.

Mugwumpitudinally tendered,

Corinne Corley

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The Missouri Mugwump™

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I've been many things in my life: A child, a daughter, a friend; a wife, a mother, a lawyer and a pet-owner. I've given my best to many things and my worst to a few. I live in Brookside, in an airplane bungalow. I'm an eternal optimist and a sometime-poet. If I ever got a poem published in The New Yorker, I would die a happy woman. I'm a proud supporter of the Arts in Kansas City. I vote Democrat, fly the American flag, cry at Hallmark commercials, and recycle.