A few days ago, I started to worry about the celebration hearing. It’s a non-essential part of the adoption process and we are not obliged to attend. But it does draw a line under the legal process and, generally speaking, draw an end to the social workers’ involvement.
Wondering what we could do to make it special and memorable for Little Chick, I began searching the internet for others’ experiences. The more I searched the more I read reasons why people didn’t attend theirs: doubt started forming in my mind.
Would Little Chick understand what was happening?
Would he be frightened of the judge?
This close to Christmas, would he again question if he was leaving us? That we were letting him, even making him, go?
Would seeing his social worker after so long unsettle and confuse him?
These and many more questions kept me awake that night. In the morning I asked my wife what she thought. In the afternoon I asked for the collective wisdom of the adoption community on Twitter. They essentially reiterated what my wife had said. Grudgingly, I told her she was right. The celebration hearing was less important for what it meant now and was more relevant to its import in the future. We would have marked the occasion we officially became family and the photos and mementos would contribute to future life story work.
We love this idea and will spend the next few days sharing this with Little Chick.
We have returned from the celebration hearing. I am not feeling celebratory. I’m tired, sad, and fed up.
Despite arriving early, we did not enter the courtroom until almost an hour after our scheduled time. This was partly due to Little Chick’s social worker arriving late and partly due to delays. The strict entry requirements – akin to airport security – unsettled us, let alone Little Chick. We knew to expect them thanks to other adopters, but we hadn’t prepared for other people and their reactions. The woman alongside was not as compliant as we were and her effing and jeffing and general aggression startled each of us. The public waiting room then proved overwhelming for Little Chick, his anxiety manifesting in constant trips up and down in the lift or tackling the stairs. I happily accompanied him during these excursions as I felt my own frustration rising, while recognising that I was not well placed to respond rationally.
When we were finally granted access, I found the whole thing confusing. We weren’t told what would happen, what we should do, anything. Our ignorance fed Little Chick’s uncertainty and he became increasingly more unsettled. When the magistrates entered – not the judge as we anticipated – it was apparent that, despite their best efforts, they weren’t expecting us. It was obvious that it was all last minute. All our preparation had been futile. Little Chick was most looking forward to sitting in the big chair: the opportunity arose but, because it wasn’t instant, he became impatient and lost interest. He was given a teddy – unexpectedly and unceremoniously – and I’m still not sure he realises the bear is for him. We have safely stored it in a memory box for when he’s old enough to understand.
Our main reason for attending was to capture photographs that would aid life story work at an appropriate time. Disappointingly, we have one photo of him in the courtroom, blurred. We took many more photos throughout the day, which will aid his life story, though none are sufficient quality for displaying.
Knowing that the court session was short (less than ten minutes) and purely ceremonial I had hoped to enjoy time with his and our social worker afterwards. The delays and the imminent arrival of Granny and Grandad (who were kindly treating us to a meal) prevented this. Lunch with the grandparents was delicious, but marred by my mardy behaviour: I was simply unable to hide or appropriately deal with my frustration. For this, I am sorry. I made it about me when it was not.
Though it was good to mark our family being official it was not the occasion we hoped for. But we should have expected that. Nothing about adoption or the adoption process is what we expected. Then again, maybe it was better that it wasn’t all neatly tied up with a bow. Adoption isn’t about fairy tale endings and I am always conscious that our ‘celebration’ is at the expense of others’ loss. There will be many more moments over the years when we can enjoy our family and celebrate our lives together. We must continue to look forward.