The last post was the end of November 2010, and its now the end of July 2011. How to summarize for you what has happened?
Turns out that just because you have UK court order, doesn’t mean anything to the US. The court order was written as an open ended foster care arrangement, and the US objected to that. Just as the immigration lawyer said they would in her advice. They turned down the request for the children’s tourist visas three times, and have refused to budge on it. They are insisting we go down the full Hague Convention Adoption process road to the bitter end.
Chris’ Mum, Sonia, died in late December. I had a hysterectomy the next day. Chris and Ciaran went back for the funeral, and picked the children up from Kent on January 10th. They all went and stayed in a cottage near Bristol. We were still hoping that the Embassy would approve the visas at this point, so Chris hung on for as long as he could, but by Wednesday that week it was clear we wouldn’t get the visas in time for him to bring the children home. It was clear from Norman and his lady that they no longer wanted the children to live with them. It was also clear from the social worker that they were desperate to find another place for the children to live.
My sister-in-law, who had already looked after them over Christmas and New Year, offered to have them again, until something else could be sorted out. I agreed that as soon as I was 3 weeks post op, and assuming I was fit to travel, I would go and take care of them for a couple of weeks. This I did around January 23rd.
We all lived at my sister-in-law’s house for a month. She had started a new job, so she just wasn’t able to take care of them any longer. The two weeks got stretched out as we were told Kent were waiting to hear from the Embassy as to whether the visas would be approved.
On February 20th, the children and I few to the UK and joined up with Chris and Alex in Goudhurst, Kent. It was the first time I had seen Chris in a month, and the longest time we had been appart since we were married, 24 years ago.
The holiday home we had rented (and Kent paid for) was cold, damp and isolated. The beds were damp. The shower was a luxurious full, round headed type which was wonderful, but the hot water tank that was attached just didn’t have the capacity to give us two showers, one after the other. The heating was supplied by underfloor heating, and the floors took days if not weeks to get warm. Then the fuse kept tripping so it would go cold, then we would notice and reset the fuse and wait for it to get warm again. The internet connection was very poor, only working in the bedroom, and then only sporadically. Towards the end of our stay, the landlady complained that we had used up her data allowance and she was being charged more money. There was no clothes dryer, so we constantly had wet washing draped around the house. The fire was supposed to provide heat for the living room and kitchen area. We could never bank it up enough to keep it going for extended periods of time. We were there five weeks.
All this time the children were getting no schooling. Before we left Luxembourg we were promised that we would be given a short list of schools, and visits would be set up. We got nothing. We were promised that Alex would be given home tutoring, since he was being taken out of school. We got nothing. I finally kicked and screamed and shouted enough that we had three lots of tutors arriving on the same day.
We had no toys or books until I made contact with a voluntary support group called Kent Kinship Care and they came around with lots of stuff, including a bike.
So, three kids, stuck at home with no school, no toys, isolated, not knowing when we were going home. Yes, it was great.
Next we moved to Kennington, a small village just outside Ashford. The first house there was called Summer Place - very poetic. Super modern. Marble tile everywhere. Stainless steel kitchen. Flat screen TVs in each of the three bedrooms. Big jacuzzi bath. All very well, but the kitchen appliances didn’t work, we only had three bedrooms so Alex ended up sleeping in the sitting room, it was still cold and the marble tile didn’t help, and the master bathroom had no shower so Chris and I ended up in one of the other bedrooms.
By this time we had tutoring set up for the two boys, and Gretel was enrolled in the local school. The tutoring was done by two separate people, so we would have one teaching session going on in the kitchen and one in the living room. Since that was all the rooms we had, I ended up stuck in the bedroom for the three hours per day that took.
We were there for two weeks, then we moved just around the corner to Fern Cottage. Fern Cottage was great. It had four bedrooms, two bathrooms, both with showers, a clothes dryer, a large living room/dining room and a ‘parlor’. The garden was lovely and big and there were great walks in the area.
We fired one of the tutors because she just wasn’t treating the boys right, so we were down to one tutor per day. We were booked in Fern Cottage for five weeks. I had pushed for this to be extended but was told that Kent wouldn’t consider this until two weeks before the end. By that time it was too late and it had been booked out to someone else. We faced another move.
We finally moved into a house on the Little Burton estate. Nice, modern, four bedrooms, warm, plenty of hot water, great internet connection, small garden, summer house, conservatory. And that’s where we are now. Waiting.
The legal process had been trundling along in the background meanwhile. Originally we were told we would be in the UK to live with the children for statutory 10 weeks before we could go to adoption panel and be approved. That was up on April 5th, and we got a positive decision from panel. That was ‘ratified’ by Kent’s Decision Maker on April 11th. By this time we were told that it wasn’t just 10 weeks, we would now have to wait until we went back to court for the Placement and Adoption Order. We were told it would take just a couple of weeks to get a court date, and that in the meantime the US approval process could be started. We’d be home in no time!
First, Norman refused to sign the adoption paperwork. He was mad because the first contact visit when we got back from Luxembourg was supervised…by us. We had been told that the visit was to be for ‘an hour or two’, and that we had to supervise it. I pushed back and said we hadn’t had any training to do this, but no, we had to do it. So we did it. I don’t think I’ve lived through a more uncomfortable 2 hours.
By March, Kent decided they were going to go back to court for a Placement Order. So we were then sitting around waiting for a court date. Waiting and waiting. Each week, I’d talk to the social worker who would tell me that ‘yes, things are moving along nicely’ or ‘I’m very pleased with the progress that is being made’. Finally in mid May we got a court date for mid June. It turns out that the court had screwed up and told Kent to fill out the wrong paperwork.
Towards the end of April, I had had enough. We’d moved house in the UK three times by that stage. Packing and cleaning and explaining to everyone where we were going to next. We had gathered enough stuff that we couldnt fit it all in the two cars we had any more. Faced with yet another move out of Fern Cottage, and still no date to go home, I was just burnt out.
Alex had had enough too. Despite the tutoring he was bored out of his mind. No friends and no real social interaction. The threat of losing his place at his specialist school. So, we went home, me for ten days, and Alex for the rest of the school year.
Chris stayed in the UK with the children and did a great job at looking after them on his own, and working at the same time.
I went home to a house that needed cleaning and lots of sorting out. It was lovely to be home, and to spend time with Ciaran, and our dog. I came back on May 10th.
June 1st was Chris’ 50th birthday, and Hansel’s 13th. Both our boys were in CA, and we still had no idea of when we were going home. We tried to make the best of it. I arranged a trip to the beach with a big picnic, and the plan had been to go out to dinner with Norman and his lady with the children. As the day wore on, and I continued to face the every day challenges that damaged kids bring (food issues, control issues, loyalty issues), all I could think about was how unfair it was that my husband’s 50th birthday was being ‘celebrated’ away from our boys and our family. I lost it on the beach with the kids. I told them very clearly that I blamed their Dad for not signing the paperwork when he was asked to, that we could have been home by now if he had done that, and that we were unable to stay in the UK indefinitely, so if things were not going to move soon, they would be looking at foster care.
I’m not very proud of it. It was a wicked thing to say to two very damaged children. In my defense, I’d been pushed the edge and I had tried to take myself off for a walk on the beach before all that stuff came out of my mouth, but Gretel insisted on following me.
That evening, Chris and I called off the dinner with Norman. We told them that we would drop the kids off, and then pick them up later. They were late and Gretel sent text messages - ‘We’re here. Where are you?’ so of course Norman’s lady though it was from me and was really mad that I would be so rude. I’m trying to hold it together and be as straight and adult like as I can be. Whatever, we did it.
The next day, the SW gets a text message from Norman saying he would sign whatever it took and what was this about the kids going into foster care?
The court date at the Royal Courts of Justice in London was June 15th. At the last minute, we were told that no childcare could be found, so one of us would have to stay home with the kids, while the other went. I drew the short straw. The court papers said we needed to be there by 10.30am, so I arrived about 10.05. There was no one there from our party. I waited and waited and at about 10.30am, a group came out that included the SW. I had missed it all! The judge was very gung ho, and wanted to give us a Placement Order and Adoption Order on the same day. Kent’s barrister had to slow her down as she explained that the US would need to do their bit. They came up with a timetable that had us getting Adoption Orders on July 4th. How poetic is that! Most importantly, we got the Placement Order - effectively overriding Norman’s consent, if necessary.
So, July 4th…we dreamed. We talked about going home. We planned to be home by mid to late July. How wonderful. It would be great. We’d get some of the summer at home, and time to get the kids enrolled in school and settled before the school year started up again.
July 4th arrives and practically nothing of the timetable had been completed. Our I-800, which we had been told would take 3-5 days, has taken 3 weeks so far, and we are still not done. None of the Articles that the two countries need to exchange have been prepared. So, another trip to court and a new timetable that now has us going home around August 22nd. Except here we are, three weeks to go, and we are still not done. We are a week behind schedule, or two weeks if you consider that the timetable was supposed to be pessimistic.
Then we hear that our fingerprints have expired, which we knew they would, and which we kept telling everyone they would. So the officer in charge of our I-800 is about to sign it off and he comes to a box on his form that wants the date to which the fingerprints are valid. Ops, they expire today. So we have to rush around getting new ones done. Turns out, its not that easy in London. First of all, the Embassy wont even answer the phone. Even if you pay them the $2/minute, they just drop the call. You have to go to the Metropolitan Police at Scotland Yard, no less. They have an appointment system, and the earliest they can do it is a week from now. Two little old ladies in this dark and dingy back room, operate antiquated machinery, doing it the old fashioned way - ink all over your hands and fingers. We get that done, and immediately overnight it to Missouri, at great cost by the way. Next day we get our email confirmation that it was delivered and signed for. We get a cheery message from the lawyer saying ‘early next week’.
Then we wait, and we wait, and we wait. A week goes by and we’ve heard nothing. I can stand it no longer so I send out a serise of emails to whoever I can think of asking for an update. I get an email response from the officer at the National Benefits Center saying ‘I’m still waiting for your fingerprints’. What the….!!! I’ve sent him the delivery confirmation info, and asked him to track them down. Better yet, I’m now told he has to run a check on those fingerprints, so we are looking at further delay even now.
Running through all this the children have been given contact visits: face-to-face, unsupervised (after the first disastrous one), visits with Norman and his lady. About three days before each visit, the kids start to act out, and this continues for about three days after. The day of the visit and everyone’s emotions are running really high. We try to be as diplomatic as possible. We are as friendly as we can be, but at first we get nothing from Norman and his lady, not even an ‘hello’. Things warm up over time, and soon we are exchanging cards and gifts, and even going out to dinner together. Great.
Each time the kids come back hyped up on sugar, full of how much of a wonderful time they had with Norman and how they were remembering all the great times they used to have. Something we’ve said or done seems to be questioned, and they have this ‘attitude’ that tells me things have been said.
The children wanted to go back to their home for one last visit. The SW and I were concerned about how this would affect them, so we held off. Finally, they, and Norman, were told one last visit to sort out what you want to take with you. Great. Off they went and they came back with some stuff. Wonderful. But they are telling me ‘the next time we go…’ and I’m thinking ‘no, this was a one off’. So I confirm it to the SW, and she says ‘yes, just one visit, that was it’, and we both tell the kids ‘no more trips home, not allowed’. The next contact weekend, off they trot, back home. What is the point of me being a parent?
So then, Norman decides to take them home a third time. When he comes to drop them off with boxes of their stuff, he tells me ‘they are very upset because they had to pack up their stuff’. At this point I loose it with him and tell him ‘we are all upset’ and ‘you cant even cooperate when I ask you to do a simple thing’ (return a tape gun that he had had for 6 weeks). You would think I had stirred up Mount Vesuvius - he erupted. ’You f**king Downeys’, ‘Why dont you f**k back to America’, ‘I’ll take my kids back and give them a good life’. He got in his car and jumped out again about 6 times, and every time he was coming at me or at Chris. He was in our faces with his finger, yelling and swearing at us. I was so scared he would hit one of us, I was urging Chris to get back in the car, and he was telling me to do the same. I finally did, and drove a little bit away. I called the police to get some help. By the time they got all my details, Norman had driven off. The kids had arrived in another car about half way through all this, and Norman’s lady had tried her best to protect them by turning up the radio, but they saw what was going on. They were very upset by it all. Norman was stiring them up even more while he gave them hugs goodbye ‘remember, you will always be D*****t’s’ and Gretel joined in with ‘If they (Chris and Diane) say anything bad about you, I’ll tell them to shut up’. Great to know where her loyalty lies!
So the policeman arrived at the house, and Gretel was indignant, ‘why did you have to call the police? My Dad wouldn’t have hit anyone…well, not unless he had had a drink’. The police took some notes, and offered to call Norman, but couldn’t really do any more than that. We chose to forgo the call.
The next day we met with the SW and explained what had happened. She was horrified. We told her quite clearly that we could no longer do visits, so now we are dealing with an agency to act as an intermediary.
And just to add another thread through all this, we’ve been close to flat broke several times. Kent say they will pay for stuff, but then they take weeks and sometimes months to come up with the money. We got to the point where we had overspent our UK overdraft, and maxed out both our US credit cards. We literally had no where to get money from. All the while Kent owe us about 15K GBP. The best they could come up with was fifty pounds to get us through the weekend. The same weekend with the police incident.
The SW gave us a big check that day, but its still not all the money, and they still havent agreed to cover our London solicitor’s bill or any of our expenses from last year.
So, delay after delay, money problems, big problems with Norman, all on top of the ‘normal’ issues we would expect to get with hurt kids. Its getting a bit much really.