Saturday, November 20, 2010

Saturday Musings, 20 November 2010

Good morning,

My eyes closed at midnight, just seconds after finishing a book from a long-ago read series by one of my favorite authors. How I could have missed that particular episode, I can't say, but I discovered it in the musty shelves of "I Love a Mystery", and chortled all the way home after purchasing it for one-half of its 1969 cover price. Oh, joy.

This morning, those eyes protested being forced to function before the sun had cleared the east horizon. I dragged myself from Saturday sleep far too early, slogging through the grinding of the beans, the bad news in the Star's front section, and the lame comics. I'm expecting the cable guy -- coming to address annoying pixelation on the Food Network channel that threatens my late-evening perusal of the Thanksgiving recipes touted by the likes of Alton Brown, Giada DeLaurentis, and everybody's darling, Rachael Ray. Why this malady only affects the Food Network, I cannot say; perhaps this stands as a commentary on my viewing habits.

My little dog occasionally protests from the backyard, unsympathetic to my need for quiet. She has a predilection for jumping on visitors, and is a bit of a bigot for reasons that predate her rescue and adoption, thus being unknown to me. She must, therefore, be banished from the house when repair persons are scheduled to arrive. The black cat yowls to be released from the captivity that he sought this morning, after a night of roaming the neighborhood. I'm told he has sired numerous kittens; certainly, he arrives home with the occasional battle scar, and I suppose that one of these days, I will be forced to curtail his manhood.

Yesterday, I attended a ceremony for National Adoption Day at the Jackson County Family Court. I am one of ten adoption GALs there. I fancied myself as a potential adoptive parent decades ago, first during my 30s before the birth of my son, and then again, in his young boyhood. That never came to pass, but I have -- if my count is accurate -- seven adopted nieces and nephews, and my very first case as an attorney was the step-parent adoption by my brother of his eldest son, now a grown man. That ceremony brought tears to the eyes of all present, from the curmudgeonly St. Louis County judge presiding over the hearing, to the social worker, and the petitioner's attorney. Each time I said the petitioner's name, the child on his lap, who was the subject of the proceedings, chirped, "That's my Daddy!"

I came very close to adopting two children, at separate times. The first, an adorable toddler named Kimmy, caught my heart and my son's heart in a way that still resonates. Another, an infant called Bianca, howled all night for the first week of her tenancy in my home, but eventually lost her fear, and clung to great gobs of my hair as she chortled over my shoulder, while I moved about the house doing chores. Each lived with us during months when my son and I served as a Jackson County foster home. Each left us to be adopted by other families, chosen in our stead as preferable. In Kimmy's case, the worker preferred a two-parent home; Bianca's worker thought she should be placed in a foster home with parents of her own race. I've prayed, since then, that the families which received those lovely, plucky children cherished them as my son and I would have. One can only hope.

But the foster children whose presence, and abrupt departure, made the biggest imprint and left the biggest hole in our hearts were Mikey and Jacob. These brothers spent a half-dozen weeks with Patrick and me during Patrick's kindergarten year. Mikey had been sexually abused by his mother's long progression of men. At age six, he had three recorded suicide attempts, the most recent prior to placement with us having been an agonizing tumble from a moving vehicle. He told the police officer who rescued him that he just wanted to get away. Not die, perhaps; but escape.

Jacob looked like an angel, and often sat contently in a toddler chair, banging his spoon on the table while singing a wordless tune. I could only imagine its origins. He held his face in an intent repose when he did not realize that I watched him, and scrunched his eyes in glee if Patrick brought him toys. I could have kept Jacob, could have made his transition into our home a seamless and joyful one. But Mikey -- ahhh, Mikey. He posed challenges that I had not anticipated. He would not take a shower for anyone but his sister's foster mother at her home; he smashed dishes against the floor; he flailed and swore when I tried to get him out of the car to go to school; he lit matches in the bedroom. On the day he brandished a knife towards my chest, screeching that he would kill me, kill Patrick, kill Jacob, that he would kill himself, I wrapped my arms around the other children and called the social worker. I can't handle this, I told her. I can't bear the thought that he might actually do it. I can't help him.

Jacob and his little sister found permanent homes. I heard that Mikey aged out of the program while living at a local boys' home. I do not know what happened to him.

I have a friend who is a career foster mother. With her husband and birth children, she gives sanctuary to some of the more troubled children whom I have seen in my long career as a family law practitioner in all its phases. She runs a lively, happy, joyful home. It is not always neat and tidy, but it is clean, and its trappings are child-proof, and she displays the artwork of foster children beside the scribblings of her birth children with equal pride. She and her husband cherished some badly damaged and sad victims of parental abuse.

As I move through my week, reading my clients' e-mail about their struggles to co-parent during separation and after divorce, I experience my own struggles -- I want to lock all these divorcing parents in padded rooms and make them stay until they work out their differences. Most of them perform reasonably well as parents, and their arguments arise not from any particularly legitimate complaint about the other parent's treatment of their shared children, but from unresolved disappointment at the failure of the adult relationship. There are exceptions, of course. I do represent people dealing with legitimate abuse situations, or the aftermath of addiction -- their own or that of their child's other parent. But by and large, as a family law practitioner, I see reasonably competent parents on both sides of the courtroom, and I ache to convince them to accept each other before it is too late -- before their children become unintended victims of their bitterness.

I find myself smiling, suddenly. I think about stories I have told -- mountains I have climbed, journeys I have taken, faces I have seen and later described. I have been accused of sentimentality. I have been accused of merely relaying warm, fuzzy memories. I edit away my personal anguish, stripping my past of its intensity, serving only the sweetness, or the easy lesson. The fierce, fast events of my past are buried in the oblique metaphors of my poetry, too rough for general audiences.

But my own suffering and the pain of the children that I serve both inform me. From it all, I take a few certain truths. In the final analysis, the human condition dictates our behavior, and our behavior molds the human condition. We become what we do. We take shape as a result of our actions. Thus, we control what we are. We know that our neuropathways change because of what others do to us, and we excuse ourselves on this basis, but we must also acknowledge that those same pathways can be redirected by our own behavior. We can change the future. We choose how we respond to adversity, and to challenge.

When the dust settles on humanity, when the last page of human history has been written, the most telling epitaph will be a recitation of the way in which we cared for those around us, especially the most helpless members of society -- the infirm, the old, the young. Our children serve both as test and legacy. I hope we rise to the challenge: In our personal choices; in our crafting of the rules that govern our collective; in the spreading of bounty; in the thoughtfulness with which we live, and work, and play, as individuals and as a society.

The white cat curls in sleep on the bookshelf beside me. She heeds my call to survival, and has even rallied. I have ordered my Thanksgiving turkey and co-opted extra chairs. In a few days, my son returns, and the house will again crackle with the intensity of youth. I have given some thought to my "thankful-for" -- the expression of gratitude that my dinner guests must acknowledge after the grace is said, as the food is passed and the drink poured. There are many things for which I am grateful: overcoming adversity; finding love; continued ability to work; the roof over my head; the school that my son attends; the help that I am given from many quarters; the air that I breathe, the sun on my skin.

I strive to distill the overwhelming emotion into one cogent thought. I have long since surrendered to the inevitable tears which will captivate me, when I take my turn. For what am I thankful? Simply put: everything.

Mugwumpishly 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.