re·lin·quish (r-lngkwsh)tr.v. re·lin·quished, re·lin·quish·ing, re·lin·quish·es1. To retire from; give up or abandon.2. To put aside or desist from (something practiced, professed, or intended).3. To let go; surrender.4. To cease holding physically; release: relinquish a grip.
After the protracted waiting our hearts have had to endure since first meeting Oliver, yesterday's news that his Birthdad had relinquished was delivered with a disappointing lack of fanfare. For some unknown reason, I had assumed I'd be told in advance that an appointment had been scheduled, that relinquishment would take place at this location, at this time. When I daydreamed about this momentous event, I pictured myself glancing anxiously at the clock, praying over the signing taking place, and feeling God lift my spirits just before I got the call that made it all official to my ears.
Instead, in the course of a routine check-in with social worker Georgie, she shared the news. It was almost an after-thought, really; I'm pretty sure it wasn't even on her radar until I mentioned the Open Adoption Agreement we had forwarded to the state's lawyer.
"Oh, yeah. He, umm, wait. Let me check. Yeah. It's here. He signed it at 2:30 today."
"He signed it?" This was, after all, a document that I wasn't even sure was in its final draft. No modifications? No negotiations of contact? No asking for a few more picture, visits, a phone call every Christmas?
"Yeah. He signed it. Oh, and he signed the term papers, too."
"The term papers? You mean, Bill terminated his rights? He relinquished?" The word, so abstract for so long, loomed before me.
I had known it would happen. This was the plan, after all, from the beginning. Oliver's birthfather had never wanted to have a child. Never intended to reproduce. Took no joy in parenting. Saw no magic in passing on his genes to a boy who would carry them forward. Chose instead to find a family for his son. Relinquishing was, from day one, his stated intention.
He was simply waiting for the court to catch up with Oliver's birthmom, to make sure that she could not get him back. And that day, they say, is fast approaching.
Despite his decided lack of fervor for the act of parenting, I have seen flashes of love in Bill over the course of the last 17 months. He truly cares for Oliver; that much, I've never doubted. The was his love is expressed can be a puzzling, somewhat off-pitch thing. But love is love. And Bill loves Oliver.
The journey that this adoption had led us on has been a twisted path indeed. The emotions, the rawness, the fears and the joys are all tangled into a knot that stays lodged somewhere beneath my heart, in a place I can't quite touch. Foster-adoption has changed me. My eyes have been opened to a new, painful world where not all children see their first birthday come and go without feeling the searing pain of broken bones or a gnawing, relentless hunger that never quite loses its grip, even after the food becomes plentiful. My heart has been broken by the stories of men and women who have continued the cycles of abuse visited on them by their own parents. My perspective has been forever shifted by the simple act of falling in love with children whose biological parents have failed miserably at that most simple of tasks: taking care of a helpless baby.
It is not much to ask, to tend to a young infant. They need warmth, food, a clean bottom and a place to sleep. In a pinch, there are services and churches and programs and even individuals who will step in and hold your hand, guiding you through the process of keeping your baby safe, healthy and alive. Oliver's birthfather, Bill, leaned heavily on those public shoulders in the first months after Oliver came home from the hospital. Oli was a premature, restless infant with reflux and a tendency to cry for hours. Bill struggled to understand the mewling little bundle before him. When he couldn't break the code that made Oliver happy, and he couldn't engage Oliver's birthmom in the task, he did what seemed most rational to him: he left.
Their relationship when Oliver was first placed with us at 14 months of age was no better. A typical visitation went like this: Oliver would scream. Bill would turn away. Oliver would scream some more. Bill would text on his phone. Oliver would scream. The visitation supervisor would suggest looking in the diaper bag for snack. Bill would find a snack, and shove it at Oliver. Oliver would eat it, scream some more, then fall asleep in a heap on the nasty carpet of the DHSH floor, exhausted.
As Oliver began to gain some skills, though, Bill realized that his birthson was, somehow, human. I saw this transformation happen in small but tangible ways. Showing up for visits. The gift of a small blue basketball. Wearing a hat that he knew Oliver liked to play with during visits. Asking what might be a good activity to engage Oliver in.
Bill still missed visits. Still lost his visitation rights regularly. Often frustrated me with his glaring inability to see the obvious. But somewhere, somehow ... a change seemed to be taking place.
After 17 months, it felt, finally, like we had come to a place where Bill had assumed something of the role he'd carry on after the adoption decree. Bill, the Birthdad. The man we'd arrange visits with, the man who'd receive the pictures, the man we'd refer Oli's questions to, the man who would no doubt sit alongside us at our son's wedding some far off day.
In May, I was asked to chaperone a visit outside of the DSHS office for Bill and Oliver. A supervisor would meet us, but I would be in charge of Oli. We would meet at the Seattle Aquarium and tour the exhibits. Bill had requested it especially; he loves the aquarium, and wanted to share it with Oli.
The visit took place on a fine, sunny day. I spotted Bill outside, and pushed Oliver in the stroller up to him. Oliver recognized him and said, in his thready, small voice, "Hiiiiii." Bill answered, "Hi, Buddy." We stood, silent and not too awkward, admiring the beautiful boy between us.
A single, petite woman approached us slowly, her eyes somewhat narrowed.
"You're Mary Grace? And Bill?" she asked. This was our supervisor, here to make sure that protocol was attended to and all boxes checked.
"How did you know?" I asked, knowing that it was absurd. Here we were, two people who couldn't be more opposite. A 34 year-old woman with a skirt down to her ankles and a fancy stroller and a Vera Bradley backpack standing with a man with jeans sagging well below his underwear waistband, bleached white hair and a t-shirt proclaiming that he was happily available to put the s@xy in back, whatever that means.
The supervisor gave me a knowing smile, then turned to Oliver. "And you must be Oliver!" she cooed. "The reason for all the celebration, huh?"
Yes. Oliver. The reason for the celebration.
After hearing that the relinquishment was signed, I had a bit of a panic last night. This morning, Bill was scheduled for his last visitation with Oliver before the agreement takes effect. The weight of that crashed in on me, and I wondered how Bill was feeling. Was he preparing himself to take a mental snapshot of the moment? Was he dreading it? Was he afraid he'd break down in tears?
Wanting to commemorate the occasion, I quickly penned a heart-felt, semi-poetic note and printed it out, intending to buy a frame on the way. I figured I'd get one that has two windows; I'd tell him to save the other side for a copy of one of the aquarium photos I'd send him after I had it printed. It wasn't much, but gifts aren't my love language. If I'd known this was coming, I could have gotten my best friend Benny (who is a gifty sort) to handle the honors. It was a pinch, and it would have to do.
I drove to the visit with a lump in my throat, casting glances at Oliver in the backseat the whole way. Can he understand how huge this is? I wondered. Should I tell him that he won't see Bill for a while? Am I going to burst into tears and ruin the whole thing?
We pulled into the familiar parking lot and were greeted by the social worker. Bill, it turned out, was a no show. He had called to confirm three times, but neglected to make it to the visitation.
And just like that, it was over. Maddeningly, achingly, over.
Bill, it seems, has relinquished. Let go. Ceased to hold. And with very little emotion, this chapter has come to a close.
With this empty conclusion, we step into our new roles. The next time I see Bill, I will be Oliver's real, true mom. The term "foster" will have faded, and I will have all the legitimacy and rights that I have felt in my heart all along. But Bill will, legally, be no one. Just a man, who once watched my son come into the world. A man whose genetic code is linked to my boy's. A man who will confound, frustrate and perhaps--someday--surprise and delight me in his relationship with my son.
Bill has relinquished. And Oliver's life moves on.