Don’t call us, we’ll call you

February 9, 2016

February: Write!

Filed under: Personal, Social Services — Tags: , — llcall @ 4:49 am

I managed all of 8 blog posts in 2015 — and most of those were before February 3, it turns out. Not a stellar year for my blog.

Which would be okay if I had moved on to some other outlet, but what actually happened is that I got numb. I know I’ve mentioned this to so many people over the last 8 months or so that you’re all like “Numbness . . . blah, blah, blah” when I say that, but hear me out! You know I’ve had years of experience with depression. Although I feel that I’ve mostly conquered that battle, sadness is still like a warm and comforting blanket for me. But numbness, not feeling anything, or at least not strongly enough to put it into words . . . now that is scary. It feels terrifyingly dehumanizing. That’s the wrestle I’ve been engaged in since about May 20th.

I know the date because I did write a blog post about it (entitled Wasted. if you were wondering — the period is important there). Someday that post may see the light of day, but for now: something traumatic happened. A child I cared about was harmed in a terrible way by another child, a sibling I cared about. And simultaneously, I realized that all the blood, sweat, and tears I had put into supporting that family was for naught. “That family” would never be a family again.

Of course, it’s not my fault. I did what I could. But isn’t that the most terrifying part?! I did everything I could and it still didn’t make any difference when faced with intergenerational poverty and cycles of family violence and substance abuse and . . . I hate to live in a world like that, but that is the brutal reality. In the face of this wrestle, I’ve struggled to express myself even in simple ways.

But that’s all prologue now.

In January, I went to the Life Writing class I used to participate in when I lived with my parents. I hadn’t been since last March (when I wrote and shared this). A group of women were participating in a writing challenge in the month of February. I didn’t think much of it that night because, you know, I might get two foster kids in the month of February and writing will be the least of my worries. But as I mulled it over, I realized that if I’m going to break through this numbness, I need to write again.

Back in August 2010, I took an online quiz about what “creative type” I am. (I know this because I wrote a blog post draft that also never came to fruition, one of 254 in that category.) This is what it told me:

Creativity gives you insight

You feel that creativity provides insight into your own being. In fact, it is like therapy for you, enabling you to get to know yourself better. You seem to be looking for a way into the mysteries of the subconscious. It’s not really self-expression you are seeking, but rather the tools of self-expression: discovering what your creation will reveal about yourself. Art helps you reflect on, analyse and expand your personality. You long to be creative, and it’s not just because you need to deal with your emotions. It’s the tension between contradictions, and the need to resolve doubt that drives you to be creative. Painting pictures, decorating rooms, arranging shells in the sand — these are all creative processes that allow your introspection to roam. You can trace your life through the different ways you have exercised your creativity. For you, art is there to make sense of life. You are more attracted to artistic activities that demand reflection, planning and solitude, and the personal discoveries you make often provide answers for others, too.

Let’s be honest, I don’t really understand what all of that means. I’m not seeking self-expression “but rather the tools of self-expression.” Um, okay. (Someone explain that to me in the comments.) But I must say that overall, it’s a pretty good descriptor of why I wrote and why I need to write again. How will I get through this life-altering experience of foster parenting if I don’t write about it?

So, although I decided to start my own challenge on February 8th to get past some busy weeks, I’ve officially carved out 30 minutes per day to write for the next month. I’ve promised a guest post to two other blogs, but you’ll see me here a bit more too.

I’ve missed this space and YOU! (The 5 or 6 yous that tell me you still check here occasionally.)

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September 16, 2015

Numbness

Filed under: Books, Personal, Social Services — Tags: , , , , , — llcall @ 7:29 pm

International Bank of Bob

I’m enthralled with a new book lately, The International Bank of Bob: Connecting Our Worlds One $25 Kiva Loan at a Time. It’s funny and engaging (there’s an ongoing bit about “poop coffee” — a real thing, by the way — that alone might get some people (Neal, ahem) interested) while remaining so terribly meaningful and sometimes heart-wrenching.

Right now Bob and I are in Bosnia in this trip around the world, and although I’m a bit familiar with the war and conflict that country saw, it’s newly eye-opening. Reading about Srebrenica, a town where Serb forces killed more than 8,000 Muslim Bosnians, has a lot more meaning to me now as a small town resident. That type of massacre would be the equivalent of murdering every single resident of all the neighboring towns in our Mountain Communities . . . in the course of 9 days. It’s still unfathomable, but it gives me a clearer perspective of what that would look like. And that’s just one of many genocidal massacres from the war.

One young woman Bob meets, Ajla, who was just 9 when the war started, described the moment that she and her brother thought their parents had been killed by a shell explosion (thankfully, they had not been): “My brother and I just looked at each other. The strange thing is, there was no emotion. We just started talking about who would do what: I can cook, you can go out and find work, we can ask my uncle for help . . . ” Bob mentions several times that Ajla seems to come back to the lack of emotions, numbness, overload, being puzzled at it even years later.

Although my experiences in my little town are in no way comparable, I think Ajla was getting at something of the same thing I was trying to express back in April about all the moments that I couldn’t feel. Since that time several traumatic events happened in our town, some of which were to children I was working with. I did cry the day I heard that particular piece of news, A LOT, but in the intervening months I’ve felt increasingly emotionally distant. I was still going through the motions of helping clients in all the same ways, but I’ve been unable (unwilling?) to access the same level of emotion for the challenges they’re facing. In a tearful discussion on my friend Kristine’s couch in June, I finally articulated it this way: It’s like I can either feel deep empathy and emotion while being confronted with people at a distance — like children starving in Africa — or I can feel little emotion while talking with a suffering child right in front of me. It’s felt like after many months of working in social services, I’m less humane and compassionate than I was before. And yet, I’ve certainly done more good for other humans.

What does that say about my strengths, weaknesses, ultimate capacity? What does it mean for my prospects as a foster mother? Just a few little things I’m ruminating on over here . . .

April 5, 2015

A moment

Filed under: Family, Motherhood, Personal, Social Services — Tags: , , , , — llcall @ 12:48 am

“Just write about a moment,” Neal simply said in response to my writer’s-block whining. “Just a moment, not an idea or concept. Don’t get abstract.”

“Like what moment?” I said, still frustrated after several days of writing starts and restarts.

“Like driving to your home visits. What’s that like? What music do you listen to? Or a recent conversation with Addison. Or write about our old phone.”

Ah yes, an ode to our old, nearly dead phone; that seemed important. After all, moving on from a phone that’s been a workhorse for you — it even got run over by a car in 2011 and kept right on going! — for the last 8 years is no small thing. But as I labored away on Tuesday night, trying to write about our old phone, my writing slowly veered toward our new smartphone and this profound identity shift I’m experiencing as a result. I am a person without a smartphone. That’s who I am. And now for the sake of frugality, I own a smartphone. Two of my deeply held values, not having a smartphone and being frugal, clash in an ultimate battle for my soul.

“Just focus on a moment,” Neal reiterated when I was again stumped and annoyed on Wednesday night. “If writing about the phone isn’t working, try the drive to your home visits.”

That sounded like an important window into my life right now. I could talk about the beautiful scenery I’ve discovered, things my homebody self would never have seen if not for this job. I could talk about why I always seem to pop in the Jeff Buckley CD when I head west deeper into the mountains and Tori Amos when I head east toward the freeway. It would be simple, a description of driving winding mountain roads and trying to make it up washed-out dirt trails in my little Honda Fit.

But really, writing about driving? To what end? The driving only matters because of the destination. The people I’m going to see, the food I’m going to bring to kids who sometimes greet me like they forgot what food looked like, the little ones I’m trying to help through so many life forces beyond their control.

“No, just focus on the moment of driving,” Neal prompts me again. “What do you see on the roads? What does it feel like to navigate those curves? What do you hear?”

“I can’t write about that! I don’t know what to say. I don’t know what it feels like!”

Even though I growled at Neal, hoping to blame him for being ridiculous, I was starting to see the problem. There were moments — there are always moments — but I haven’t been feeling them. I’m too tired from 50-hour work weeks; too busy juggling multiple church responsibilities, the foster parenting application, and needed home improvements; too burned out from helplessly watching children suffer. I could barely think of a recent interesting conversation with Addison. Nothing was vivid.

I thought about throwing in the towel, turning my attention back to 90 assignments still-to-grade and instructor assessments due by Saturday, but if I don’t stop now to try and capture a moment, when will I? Moments started to race through my mind:

  • The 11-year-old who lifted up his shirt and said, “Look! See how skinny I’ve gotten since we don’t have enough food!”
  • The 8-year-old who told me, “I know my mom loves me because I’ve only been taken away one time,” after which he was taken away again when his abusive stepfather came back home.
  • The time I was on a conference call and all of a sudden there was a squealing pig running around outside our office window.
  • The time I was in a home conducting an assessment on the financial stability of a family and a young goat wandered up and started eating my paperwork.
  • The morning last week when they dropped me off for work and Addison said, “Mom, can you do me a favor today? At lunch, can you ask your boss if it’s okay if Dad comes and does your job for awhile so you can stay home with me?”

I thought I had finally decided on a moment and was about to really get somewhere when I heard little feet in the hall. Soon Addison cuddled up in bed next to me, demanding “MORE pillow” and begging for a “toy video.” Oh, these toy videos! I applaud a successful female entrepreneur, but how can opening boxes of Disney princess toys and mixing and matching accessories be so mesmerizing to children?

I really wanted to shoo her away, or at the least send her off with a device, but since the moments haven’t been vivid enough lately, I decided for once to just snuggle up and watch with her. The 15-minute video was probably going to feel like 17 hours, but I was gonna watch it, dang it, and be in the moment!

I got to about 1 minute, 34 seconds before I couldn’t help myself: “You know, I don’t really enjoy these toy videos. I don’t find dressing toys or people very fun.”

“I know, Mom, but I do!”

“What do you think I do for fun?”

“Work,” she replied without a pause.

“Is that all you think I do for fun?”

“Well, sometimes you watch videos that aren’t toy videos . . . but shhh, I’m trying to watch her put this green dress on Belle.”

Me again, at 3 minutes, 47 seconds: “Don’t you think that’s too many purses?! Do you think people should have that many purses?”

“No, that is too many purses,” she conceded. “But it’s still fun!”

I’m looking at her now, instead of the video. Who IS this little person? Once she was my appendage, but now . . . she craves toy videos, dresses, rings, and make-up. She tells me, “It’s hard having a mom who loves brown,” and proposes a new plan wherein we paint pink stripes all around the house. “We can alternate: pink, brown, pink, brown. Wouldn’t that be a good idea?!” I know her and yet she’s completely foreign.

We’re still only at 8 minutes, 20 seconds and “Disney Collector” is gushing about the new dress she’s making out of Play-Doh for Princess Aurora. Will I survive 15 minutes of this? I wonder. “Disney Collector” says the pink purse will look perfect with that dress, and Addison matter-of-factly says, “There is no perfect.”

“What?”

“There is no perfect,” she repeats.

“Why do you say that?”

“Well, the lady said it was perfect, but there is no perfect because we’re always gonna make mistakes cause that’s how we learn.”

Well, maybe this little person isn’t completely foreign. And maybe there is a little perfect, every once in awhile. For a moment.

February 2, 2015

Privilege

I wrote this back in July 2014 and I’m not sure why I never posted it. So, here.

“Would Lindsay be able to help me with this?”

I recognized the voice immediately, even though he was an exceptionally soft-spoken man. Or perhaps it was because of his gentle tone, not in spite of it. There’s no shortage of booming voices in this mountain town and we hear a lot of them at the Resource Center. My heart swelled just a bit that Greg was back and asking for me. Although he wasn’t one of my usual clients, I had spent several hours with him over the last month: finding job postings, applying for insurance, and seeking prescription assistance after his employer unceremoniously dropped his health insurance.

It was the latter appointment that was most memorable. As I began filling out the paperwork with the contact information I was beginning to know well, I asked what specific prescriptions he needed help with. He slowly pulled out a packet of carefully folded prescription receipts, drug usage information, and two business cards for his doctor and therapist. He placed each one on my desk, smoothing them out one-by-one. When he was finished, he held up his hands in a gesture to calm me and said, “Now, don’t jump out of your chair or anything, but they say I have . . . I think it’s called paranoid schizophrenia. The medicine is for that.” After a pause, he added, “But I’m not going to hurt you.”

There was no fear in me, just a sudden ache. Can you imagine feeling that you had to make that disclaimer every time you sat down in someone’s office? Several responses crossed my mind in that moment, and I almost blurted out, I’ve been locked down in a jail before – you got nothing on that! But I finally leaned toward him and said, “I’m so glad you came. I think we can help. And I’m so glad you’re seeing a counselor to help you through this. Keep going.”

Over the next hour, I filled out the paperwork, made calls to several pharmacies, and verified the needed prescriptions and costs. I sent him home with a promise that I would personally check on the progress of his prescriptions, even though my job generally ends at the paperwork. There was something about the anxiety in his request that made me want to give him some extra assurance.

It had been several weeks since that visit and I hadn’t seen Greg. I wondered how he was: if his prescriptions were holding up while he waited for new insurance; if he had found a job that he could actually afford the gas to get to; if he would feel comfortable seeing me again after having to lay bare so much of his medical history the last time. “Would Lindsay be able to help me with this?” was just exactly what I wanted to hear. It meant that he believed me. He believed that I was glad he came. He believed that I would help him.

Back in January when I was stressing that my teaching hours would be reduced, I had no idea that another opportunity was waiting just around the corner. But not just any opportunity; this is an opportunity 17 years in the making. See, when I was 17 years old I received my patriarchal blessing, a blessing of guidance and direction that all Mormons can receive. Over the years, one line in particular has followed me: “You will have the privilege of working among the people in the communities in which you reside.” It would be difficult to quickly encapsulate how this statement has influenced my life. When I was young and naïve, I thought the community I would work in would probably just be THE WORLD. Or maybe that would be too broad, maybe just the whole United States. I wanted to move to Washington, D.C. as soon as possible so I could start working on changes in the “community.” Apparently my teenage brain read that line as “You will change the world! No big deal.”

Even when I decided to narrow my vision and worked with some legitimately community-based organizations (book donations for struggling schools, domestic violence shelter, teen mentoring), it never felt quite like the realization of that promise. Until now. I’m not exaggerating when I say that nearly every single day of work at the Resource Center, I feel an overwhelming sense that this is precisely the fulfillment of that long-ago promise. This is the community. This is the work. This is the privilege. I have people like Greg to thank for that.

November 21, 2014

Evaluating my load

On a regular basis, my friend Steph’s blog posts make me reflect on my deepest values and whether I’m living in alignment with them. The one I read today on the loads we carry was no exception.

She shares the story and metaphor that Elder Bednar spoke about in his talk Bear Up Their Burdens with Ease in last April’s LDS General Conference. He talks of a friend whose truck veered off the road and got stuck in the snow. Ultimately, the only way he was able to get back on the road was by filling his truck with firewood.

“It was the load of wood that provided the traction necessary for him to get out of the snow, to get back on the road, and to move forward. It was the load that enabled him to return to his family and his home.”

Stephanie’s post quickly brought me to tears because I have been trying to jettison one particular part of my load over the last few weeks. Suddenly I felt guilty.

Am I not appreciating my opportunity to serve?

Am I thinking too much about my own busyness and obligations when the other people I serve with also have obligations?

If I’m able to pass off this particular responsibility, will I be robbing myself of some of the “spiritual traction” I need to keep progressing?

I wasn’t immediately sure of the answer to those questions. Hence, the momentary worried tears.

It’s hard to imagine that somehow stepping back from that one particular responsibility would seriously impede my progress when I have so many other things stretching me right now. At one job, I’ve spent several hours working with just one particular student, helping her think through ways to avoid divorcing, something she and her husband have been considering for the past year. At another, it’s been a roller coaster of emergency home visits, domestic violence, and children telling me they’re starving. (One of those incidents happened on my birthday; I didn’t feel particularly festive after this child lifted their shirt to show me how skinny they had gotten since my last visit.)

When I think about those situations, as well as my ever-present stretching as a mother (to Addison and if things go according to plan, two more kids next year) and a chronically ill person, I just can’t imagine that asking to be released from this one additional responsibility would be evidence of shirking opportunities for growth and service. But then again, I prefer ALL the foregoing activities and demands, even the heart-rending ones, to this one particular responsibility, which comes least naturally to me. Is that evidence that it’s the one that will produce the most “spiritual traction”? (If it doesn’t drain every last ounce of me first, of course . . . )

How do you evaluate your load? How do you know when eliminating something will increase your progress, and when it will hinder it? And most importantly, how  do you evaluate MY load? Ha!

July 13, 2014

Paperwork

Filed under: Personal, Social Services — Tags: , , , — llcall @ 11:56 pm

I’ve been pretty quiet on here for a couple of months, but some of you may have caught my Father’s Day guest post on Neal’s blog. He titled it “A Father for the Fatherless” (writers never get to pick their own headlines!) but I originally called it “Paperwork.” His blog has an abridged and more theatrical version (no song and dance, but pictures and images) but I didn’t want to lose some of the other details of my interactions with Marty (names and other identifying details were changed to mask his identity, by the way). So, the unabridged version . . .

There is barely an inch of uncovered space in the Resource Center where I work. Flyers advertising school lunch programs and community health screenings obscure the glass window in the front door. Clipboards of blue, tan, and salmon colored papers greet clients as they enter. Someone asks if I have any scholarship applications. I sift through a thick manila folder. How about a bus schedule? I pull one off the tack board hanging above my desk. Can I get a dog license? Sure, just fill out this form. Diapers? It’s an emergency! I grab my key to the supply closet. I want to quit smoking, can you help? I lead them to a magazine stand labeled Smoking Cessation Programs. I’m worried that my son was molested. First, let me close the door. Now, tell me everything, as I pull out a Suspected Child Abuse Report. At the Resource Center, we don’t tell people what we do. We ask them what they need because, chances are, we can help.

But the help isn’t free. The currency we exchange is paperwork. I greet each client, shake hands, show them into my office, and proceed to complete forms with titles like:

Application for Exemption from Medi-Cal Health Plan Designation

Family Stability Rubric

SAR 7 Eligibility Status Report

Core Data Elements

The titles sound so sterile, so clinical. Just the core data elements, please. Nothing superfluous. Tell us a story? God forbid.

But it turns out that stories are what 68-year-old Italian men do. I knew right off Marty wasn’t from around here. With my office just across from the receptionist’s desk, I hear clients before I see them, and a Brooklyn accent sticks out like a sore thumb in a place that’s nearly 3000 miles away on the opposite coast.

In my three months of working at the Resource Center, I’ve noticed that the desperation the client feels is directly proportional to the number of people they tell their story to as they enter the front office. While I finish up my previous client’s paperwork, I hear Marty’s voice moving around the room, barely a pause to draw breath. To the receptionist, he details the unexpected drug bust on his niece, which led to the heart attack, which led to the month-long hospitalization. To the quiet client waiting for her appointment, he exclaims, “I had no idea my niece was into that stuff, you know! It’s crazy!” To the Sparkletts delivery man, collecting our empty bottles, Marty explains, “It’s been a month since I seen my Godson — that’s as long as we been apart his whole life.”

Sometimes it takes a while to understand just what a client is asking for. It’s understandable; when life is spinning out of control, it can be hard to figure out what will stabilize it. But as he sat down in my office, Marty told me exactly what he was there for.

“My Godson was taken away on account a his mom doin’ drugs — they found needles and all kinds of crazy stuff in her room — and I need to get ‘im back.  I need the social worker to fax me the paperwork here and then I need you to help me fill it out, make sure I’m doin’ it right cause he’s been away from me for over a month on account a me goin’ to the hospital for my heart attack. The shock’s what did it. The police come busting into my house — and I’m retired law enforcement, mind you — and search all the rooms. They haul Barb right off and I can’t believe the things they’re pullin’ out of her room. I had no idea. And while I’m in the hospital just tryin’ to survive, Barb ups and signs away her rights. So the state’s got Mike now but I gotta get him back. Ya see what I mean?”

It wasn’t long before I had the paperwork in hand.

Verification of Relative or Non-Relative Extended Family Member (NREFM)

 Application for Assessment of Relative/NREFM Home

Just three short pages, about 36 questions, to explain why you should be the one to love and care for a child. I hand the papers to Marty but he puts his hand up to block them. “See, I need you to do it,” Marty says, a hint of pleading in his mostly matter-of-fact tone. “We gotta get everything just right. Will you write for me?”

No problem, I think. Paperwork is what I do. I read aloud the first question and set to work squeezing his narrative into the space provided.

Name of Minor. “Michael Jonathan Bricker. But we called him Mikey from day one. I was there from the time he was born, you know. He came home to my house and I’ve been with ‘im ever since. I used ta . . . .”

Minor’s DOB. “It’s today. He turns 13 today. 3/22/2001. I can’t believe I don’t getta be with ‘im on his birthday. I talked to the social worker and said I gotta speak with ‘im. They let me call ‘im but when I heard his voice I just broke down. I couldn’t even talk. I just bawled. I can’t believe I’m not with ‘im for his birthday, he’s thir . . . .”

He breaks off in quiet sobs. I look up from the paperwork and instinctively stretch my hand toward him. But I stop halfway there, resting it on the file cabinet that separates us. It’s still at least a foot from being anywhere near to a consoling touch. After a decade working with prisoners, who were shackled to avoid physical contact, I’m still grappling with how to reach out.

Brief description of your relationship to child/comments. I stare at the paper. I have four and a half lines to distill from Marty the special ways he comforted his infant Godson; how he had to bend his  6′ 7″ frame in half as he held the hand of a toddler learning to walk; how he walked the preschooler to classes everyday because “he has some learning problems but he’s hangin’ in there”; how he drove the teenager to and from high school right up until the day the cops burst in.

“He’s been my whole world, you know,” Marty concludes. I wonder if that description is brief enough for the powers-that-be.

Marital status. “Single. I’ve been single my whole life. Never married or had my own fam’ly. Mikey’s been my only kid. He’s been with me all ‘is life. I’ve always provided a home and I always will.”

Name of child’s father. “Sam Bricker. But he died looong time ago. He wasn’t hardly in Mikey’s life.”

Here Marty stopped abruptly. I expected the story of Sam, since I’d already heard about growing up in New York, a girl he once knew that looked like me, and life as a police deputy. But there was nothing else he had to say about Mikey’s father. Maybe he knew that Sam’s absence was one of the things that had ensured his own place in Mikey’s life, but you don’t want to give thanks for something like that.

Have you ever been arrested? “Oh, hell no! I’m retired from law enforcement, remember? I gotta pension from ‘em.”

Do you have any serious health problems or disabilities? “Well, I’ve had both knees done. You can see that.” He points to identical 8-inch-long scars. I hadn’t noticed them earlier; they’re faded enough to be hardly visible while standing. From the hobbling way he moved his enormous frame, I had guessed hip replacement. “Besides, that I only got about half a spine. Then there’s the heart thing, but after a month-and-a-half at the hospital, that’s pretty much done. But yeah, I guess, basically I’m disabled.” It was surprising the way he had to look his whole body over and take stock of his injuries before coming to that conclusion. Around the Resource Center, being disabled is often worn on your sleeve.

“But I take care a myself,” Marty adds after a minute. “I can take care a myself. I got Social Security comin’ in and a pension — law enforcement is tough on your body. I don’t need to be livin’ with people to get on.” I wonder if he’s trying to convince himself since he’s already told me he is living with people to get back on his feet. 

Have you ever had a problem with alcohol, drugs, or prescription medication? “No, never! If I’d a known his mom was doin’ that, she’d be right outta that house! I told Mikey his mom made some really bad choices; don’t ever go down that road or your Godfather will be right on your tail.”

If the children cannot be returned to the care of their parents, are you willing to adopt the children or become their legal guardians? “Oh, yeah. I’d take care a ‘im forever. I saw my niece. I says, ‘Barb, why’d you sign over your rights so fast? You don’t give up on your own baby.’ She said, ‘So I have to hear this from you?’ Damn right, you do! You don’t give up your kid for drugs. I don’t care if they’re 2 or 62, they’re your baby forever. How does she not get that? I’ll take care a ‘im forever.”

I’m blinking back tears. That’s another thing I haven’t figured out yet: do I let them see me cry? It’s hard to do paperwork through welled-up tears, and drips will smear the ink. Do I need to look unphased, to instill confidence that things will be okay? Or can I show them that I’m a little afraid that the thing they want, more than they’ve ever wanted anything, might never be? Just released from the hospital, disabled, living with a friend, not realizing drugs were infiltrating his home until the cops came knocking. I’m no custody expert, but these don’t sound like good signs.

Please add any additional information you wish to provide. One and a half lines, this time. Barely enough room to say, “Please, I’ll do anything to be with my Mikey again”; no room to post your whole heart on the page.

We finish up with his signature and I prepare the fax. The space between the faxing and the confirmation feels interminable, his and Mikey’s whole future hanging in the balance. I assure him that I’ll call the social worker to make sure she received the fax. I know she did, and he doesn’t ask me to call, but it’s all I can do and so I’ll do it. As he gets up to leave, he tells me matter-of-factly, “I’m gonna hug you.” He wraps his hulking arms around me — I’m not sure I’ve ever been held in such long arms and I can feel how powerful they still are — and whispers, “You’re an angel,” as he kisses my cheek with a loud and purposeful muah. He turns to leave and I still haven’t moved. Should I have hugged back? What were my parting words? Did he see my smile? I can still hear him repeating thank you, thank you, thank you as he hobbles out of the office, and I can’t stop smiling. Finally, I take a shaky breath and sit down to finish my paperwork.

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