#61 The adoption hearing
At first, it’s a little weird to be in a courtroom without having done anything wrong. I’ve only been in court once before when my dad tried to talk his way out a traffic ticket – didn’t work, by the way – and it feels like we’re on a movie set or something. Davy is excited, wanting to touch everything even though we keep telling him to stay close, and Yoah is looking around with wide eyes, gawking at the judge in her long black robes.
Sadly, Jagger and Abby are no strangers to court hearings, since they both watched their father get convicted back when they were just young kids. I know from Mary that Jagger almost got thrown in juvie for being involved in a robbery when he was barely even 15, but he’d only been the driving the car, and he did it to get money to be able to visit his brothers – he was staying with an uncle at the time because Dorothy couldn’t handle him. He ended up with court-sanctioned therapy instead.
Abby and Jagger don’t gawk or whisper like the rest of us. They just walk to the place reserved for us and sit down, keeping their eyes on the judge.
“You’re not on trial,” I remind them, putting a hand on Abby’s shoulder while I ruffle Jag’s hair. “Relax. Today is a good day, remember?”
Jagger looks up and grins. “I know, Dad.”
“It’s so lovely to meet all of you!” The judge gets up and walks towards us, shaking Jagger’s hand first, then mine. She drops to her knees to talk to Davy for a moment, and I can’t help but feel glad for her not being stuffy or formal or anything. She’s just a normal, kind woman in black robes, chatting to everyone like she’s their favorite aunt or something.
Mary told all of us that adoption hearings are about finalizing the process, making things official, and creating a celebratory moment. They’re not going to ask us difficult questions meant to break us or try to find a reason for me not to adopt the boys. This is just a formality, basically. There’s no reason why this should be anything but pleasant. Still, it’s hard to know what to expect when you’ve never even really been to court, let alone to a hearing like this.
“Come on, kids,” the judge says, motioning for Davy and Yoah to sit down next to Jagger.
Abby tries to get up to give me her chair, but I press her back down onto it. “She can stay, right?” I ask the judge. “She’s not going to be adopting the kids today, but she’s my girlfriend, and basically the kids’ mother.”
“Of course,” she agrees with a smile. “Let’s just get you an extra chair, Mr. Davids.” She motions for someone to get me a chair, and tells my family members to sit down as well. She even gives them permission to take pictures, which my mother starts doing immediately.
“Mom,” Cameron grunts. “Your finger is in front of the lens… Here, let me do it.”
“I’m judge McMillan,” the woman in the black robe says as she sits down on other side of the desk. She’s not in the chair behind her own desk with the name sign and everything. She’s on our level, smiling at us. “What we’re going to do today is basically just going over the paperwork, which you are already familiar with. And I’m going to ask you some questions, and they we’ll sign the adoption agreement.”
“Can I sign?” Davy ask, sounding excited. “I brought a pen.”
“Sure,” the judge says with a smile. “So smart of you to bring a pen!”
I love that she’s not telling him that he doesn’t need to sigh. Jagger is the only one over the age of twelve, so only his signature is needed today, but I know Yoah and Davy will feel more important and mature if they get to sign something too.
The judge asks all of us to hold up our hand and swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Davy yells the words, making the rest of us laugh. I can tell Abby feels a little out of place, so I put my arm around her, rubbing her back to soothe her. I want her to feel included. This isn’t just about me and the boys. I want all of us to be a family. And if it’s up to me, it won’t take long before Abby and I make things official.
The judge asks Mary to summarize the boys’ files, and Mary steps forward, telling the whole story in simple words so Davy will be able to follow along. The boys don’t even blink when Mary explains how Jagger’s dad died and that Yoah and Davy’s father is in jail, his parental rights terminated years ago. When she gets to Dorothy’s death, the boys all look down and I can see them holding hands underneath the desk.
“How do you like living with Christopher?” judge McMillan asks Davy, her voice kind.
“It’s great!” he says, beaming at her, all sadness forgotten. “Dad is so nice. He always plays with us, and he reads us bedtime stories, and he got Abby for us.”
“He got you Abby?” the judge repeats, smiling at his choice of words. “How did he do that?”
“She was the nanny,” Yoah says before Davy can reply. “She came to live with us after the first month, and she’s amazing. Just like Chris. We love them both. I’m really happy Chris gets to be our dad, and we’d really like to come back soon to make Abby our mother.”
“Oh,” Abby says, putting a hand in front of her face as she starts crying. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t apologize,” judge McMillan says, handing her a tissue. “If this isn’t a moment for happy tears, I don’t know what is. What about you, Jagger? Is there anything you want to say to me about becoming Christopher’s son?”
Jagger sighs deeply, a slow smile lighting up his face. “I’m just happy that me and my brothers get to stay together. And that Chris took a chance on me when I showed up on his doorstep, announcing I was moving in. I know I’m not an easy kid to raise, and I made things very difficult for Chris, but he never gave up on me.” He looks at me with tears in his eyes. “Thanks, Dad. If it weren’t for you, I’d probably be a high school dropout by now, maybe even in juvie or something. I owe you everything.”
“Jagger…” Oh God, now I’m crying. “You don’t owe me anything. I love you.”
“I think it’s safe to say you want adopt these three boys,” the judge says, smiling at me.
“Yes,” I reply immediately. “Definitely.”
“So you’re prepared to make the commitment to become the adoptive father of these three boys?”
“Do you understand all the rights and duties that come with being their father?”
She smiles again. “I want to thank you for being a foster parent. As a judge, I can’t do my job properly if there aren’t people like you stepping up when I have to terminate an adoptive parents’ right to keep their own kids. And with these boys losing their mother on top of everything else… We need people like you to step forward, open up their homes, and give these kids unconditional love without knowing if it will end up as an adoption or not… Thank you.”
“Erm… you’re welcome,” I say stupidly. I wasn’t expecting to be thanked today.
“Okay, then there are only a few things left to do,” judge McMillan says, opening the file in front of her and pulling out three documents – one for each kid. “Davy, do you want to be adopted by Christopher?”
“Yeah,” he says, nodding with a serious look on his face.
“You have a pen, right?” she asks, raising her eyebrows.
“Yes!” he shouts, getting up to pull it out of his pocket. “Where do I sign?”
She turns over the paper and has him scribble his name onto the empty paper on the back of the documents. “Thank you. What about you, Yoah? Do you want to be adopted by Christopher?”
“Very much so.” Yoah knows that he doesn’t truly need to sign, and he gives me small amused smile when he scribbles his name on the bottom of the page. He’s too smart for his own good, that boy.
“Jagger, do you-”
“Hell yeah,” Jagger says, grabbing the pen out of her hand and flipping to the page where he needs to sign. He does it with a flourish, his silver rings gleaming in the bright florescent lighting. He knows his signature is needed for this to be legal, since he’s almost 17 already, and he understands how big this moment is, even more than the other boys do.
“You better not change your mind now,” he tells me, pretending to be joking, but I know him better than that by now. He still can’t quite believe this is truly happening.
“No way,” I assure him. “Never.”
I get to sign the papers next, and with every flick of my wrists, it feels like I’m changing my life for the better. Everything about my life has changed since I agreed to foster these three lovely boys, and it’s hard to truly grasp how lonely I was before I became their father. Abby’s hand is on my knee, and it feels so damn good to have her with me while I sign the documents that will make me a real father. Not just a foster dad – which was already amazing – but a legal father, with the same rights and duties I would have had if they’d been my biological children.
“I’ve reviewed the file and I definitely believe that it’s in the best interest of Davy, Yoah and Jagger to be adopted by you,” the judge says in her kind voice. “You’ve done everything in your power to give them a safe and happy place to live, to show them the love they need, and to provide for them in all the ways that matter.” She signs three times. “By signing these documents, I hereby declare you, Christopher Davids, are now the parent of Davy, Yoah and Jagger Pillar. You are their parent under the law, with all the rights, duties and joys of the parent-child relationship. Congratulations.”
I hear my parents and Cameron cheering behind me, and when I look over my shoulder, I see that they’re all in tears, even my younger brother. He isn’t even trying to hide it. He gives me the thumbs up and wipes at his eyes, smiling through his tears.
“Do you want to take a picture?” the judge asks. “To commemorate the moment?”
Abby takes out her phone and tells me to pose with the boys, but Jagger and I say “No!” at the exact same time.
“You’re in this, whether you like it or not,” he says, putting an arm around her. “As soon as we can, we’re coming back here and you’re signing one of those documents as well, Abby. Now stop crying and pose for a picture with us.”
“This is your moment,” she argues, looking at me. “I don’t want to impose.”
“Ugh, she’s impossible,” Jagger complaints, rolling his eyes at me.
“We really want you in the picture, Mom,” Yoah says, tugging at her sleeve.
Oh God, he’s calling her Mom.
Abby and I are both crying now, causing Jagger to roll his eyes and throw his hands up in the air. “You’re such sappy losers!” He groans. “Is this picture happening or not?”
After a few minutes, the five of us are posing with the judge as the boys hold up their adoption papers. Cameron takes a million pictures, and after ten minutes we’ve had every single combination of people you can possibly think of. I’ve got one with each of the boys, just the two of us, and there is one of my parents with the kids, Abby with the kids, and so on. I hug my brother when we’re set to leave the courtroom, and then I go back to shake judge McMillan’s hand.
“Thank you for making this such a great moment for us,” I tell her earnestly.
“Trust me, this is the highlight of my day,” she says, looking a little misty-eyed herself. “And I guess I’ll see you again soon, huh?” She nods in Abby’s direction. “The boys seem pretty adamant about having her as their mother. Is that something you’ve discussed with her?”
I nod. “We’ll definitely be coming back here, but first…” I look over my shoulder to make sure Abby isn’t looking and pull the little back box out of my pocket and flip it open to show the judge the gold engagement ring I bought two weeks ago. There’s a princess cut diamond in the middle, surrounded by little round ones that are entrapped in golden hearts.
“Oooooh,” the judge breathes. “When?”
“Tonight, at the party we’re throwing for the boys.” I put the box back in my pocket and look at Abby again, smiling when I see her hugging Yoah. “Wish me luck.”