Why I bother showing up to court on time, I'll never know. An hour went by - still no movement. I made small talk with Baby Brother's family, read some in my book, and listened to background chatter. To most people it was just another day.
I could hear the clanking of chains behind me before I saw her face. I turned, quickly, in hopes to catch her eyes and as soon as they met, tears streamed both our faces. She mouthed "thank you" a dozen times on her way to holding in the jury box. Everything in me wanted to run to her; squeeze her hand. I watched, helplessly, as formalities began. All I could do was meet her gaze and hope she saw love.
Sweet Mama held true to her letter. She stood firm with her rights and forced the case to begin trial. I don't ever want to experience it again. Words will never be able to convey the brutal reality of what happened. Baby Brother's guardian ad litem and attorney hammered her points until the case was nothing but a bloody carcass, wide open for disease and prey. Sweet Mama sobbed on the witness stand and I, barely, held it together. I, literally, stuffed emotion to my toes, willing for it not to come out in distracting heaves.
Given your history with Cisco and [Little Miss], do you really think, it's fair to make Baby Brother wait over a year for permanency?
She held tissues to her face and, quietly sobbed, "no."
If Judge grants you the time that you're asking for AGAIN, what is going to be different when you're released from prison?
She shook her head and shrugged.
I said, "What is going to be different???? Would you say you're OPTIMISTIC that your addiction will be cured? What support do you have? You come from a family of drug addicts - do you expect them to help you? Did they help support you in the past?"
Mama was lost in a sea of pain and panic. The questions came too fast.
The attorney was relentless. I kept waiting for defense to shout "Objection!" but he sat with his head down. He had given up long before we started.
As the questions pressed on, I let go of my heart and let it shatter to the polished floor. Someone pressed tissue in my hand and asked if I was okay. I shook my head.
"Are you, [Baby Brother's] best option, right now?"
I barely heard her whisper..."no."
"I would like to approach the bench."
White noise came on and the attorneys rushed forward. The judge called for recess and asked everyone, but Sweet Mama and security to exit the courtroom, so that she could have some moments of privacy with her attorney.
When we got to the hall, Baby Brother's attorney explained that they didn't want Sweet Mama to have to endure anymore. They recessed to try and convince her to sign over her rights, voluntarily. Apart from the obvious relief from ruthless questioning, a direct release helps Sweet Mama have some footing should she get pregnant, again.
I walked out in silence, I could barely breathe.
Her attorney burst through the doors and pointed at me, "She wants you."
I heard the clerk lock the door behind me and the security guard verified my identity. I walked over to my broken friend and put a hand on her knee. I didn't bother asking if it was allowed.
"Thank you for being such a wonderful mother," she hiccuped between cries, "You are the mother I always intended to be. I don't know what to do. What should I do? I mean... I know what I should do...but I need to fight."
Tears streamed down my face and I took her hands in mine. "Baby...you need to fight for YOU. Until you fight for you, you're never going to be able to fight for your kids. I love your kids like my own and I will take care of them as my own. It's time to let go. And trust God that good will follow. Look at this time as an opportunity you've never had. You have two years in a place that is going to feed you every day and keep you warm and safe. Get your high school diploma; get clean. God is handing you a fresh beginning. You just have to take it."
I don't know how long we sat there crying; time was still.
After several moments of sniffling silence, she said, "How are you going to do it? It's so many kids!"
I laughed and cried some more. "I know...but we WILL do it because we love you and we love your kids."
She looked down and whispered..."They're your kids, too. Thank you for writing me. I loved the pictures of Cisco and his brothers. It's helping me get through. If I do this, you have to promise me that you won't let anyone take Baby Brother from you. If I can't be his mom, it has to be you. Do you promise?"
I can hardly see to type this...
I told her about the drawing Cisco made, last night, and let her know she could write to him any time. Her attorney interrupted and told her it was time to decide. I hugged her tight and prayed that she'd feel a surge of strength. She couldn't return the squeeze, but she wet my face with her tears and I thanked God for crossing our paths.
An hour later, court returned to session and the adoption representative was present with signed papers in hand. Sweet Mama cried through all of the Judge's questions as he made sure she was not coerced, paid, or under the influence. Every time she looked at me, I saw Little Miss. Their similarities are so striking, I know this day will haunt me every time I see my girl cry.
Sweet Mama was escorted from the courtroom. I managed a quick hand-squeeze as she walked by and told her not to give up. The door closed, firmly, and I wondered if I would ever see her, again.
Baby Brother's attorney walked the court through placement and adoption recommendations. She looked at me and told the judge in all her years of service she had never seen a foster parent express so much compassion. She told him about my letter to prison, my willingness to encourage her during the recess, and somehow had even picked up the story about Cisco's "I love you" picture.
The judge choked up and told me he has a daughter the same age as Mama. He expressed the heartbreak of her story, thanked me for keeping the siblings together, and noted how Mama's love never stood a chance to her addiction and the addiction that tears through the rest of her family. He explained how easy it is for the players in court to be desensitized to such mess and thanked me for showing kindness.
And then it was over.
On the way out, I asked what will happen if no one picks her up on the day she is released. A likely possibility as she is hours from everything familiar.
"Probably a halfway house."
I sat in my car and sobbed until my meter ran out.
Baby Brother comes home on Friday, but the excitement of our next chapter is dulled by the cost.
There was one moment of connection, where Sweet Mama, Foster Mama, and me were all wiping tears and I thought about the preciousness of Baby Brother. Three mothers representing his past, present, and future, sharing in the agony of his story.
That moment in time can never be replicated. The three of us will never meet, again.
And somehow the weight of that is almost too much to bear.