Saskia is eighteen months today. One-and-a-half, she’s every bit the age, with her sturdy, sometimes heavy steps suddenly transforming into a run at will and her vocabulary increasing, her pronunciation becoming more clear and agile and her single word commentaries accruing an extra word or two on a regular basis. More and more often, she knows how to get in on the joke, so a sight that’s becoming more frequent is she and one of her brothers in hysterics. The tiny baby—all soft and wide-eyed—is morphing into that full-on toddler of the strong will and big ideas, the ability to push her doll stroller or ride her little “bike” and she has the leg muscles to prove it; in fact, her body’s just strong now, even with its soft edges. She is so small and has so much hair that there’s something a tiny bit improbable about the package, as if she is the size of a less capable person and surprises—amuses—people with her determination and ability juxtaposed by small stature.
Eighteen months now, a year ago, at six months, I held her in my arms and was terribly afraid we’d lose her, because the legal system—rightly, in principle, in many ways—could work to honor her birth father’s stated intention that she not be adopted. He had formally contested the adoption and we were—I am practically literally serious here—holding our breaths to see whether he’d follow through with the next steps necessary to move beyond protestation into action that could change who had custody of Saskia ultimately.
At that point, what we were doing was waiting. I don’t mean customer service or airport line waiting that you know, however annoying and frustrating, will end. I mean, pull something as taut as humanly possible and hold it. I mean, breaths came haltingly, as fierce exhalations, without corresponding gulps of inhaling. There were questions galore: if Ruel wanted to see her, how would we facilitate that safely? How much were paternity tests? Would he shell out that much to take one? Would he find a lawyer through legal aid, could he? Were there outstanding issues—immigration or child support or other of his kids being watched carefully by the Department of Social Services—that might stop him from pursuing what he’d promised (threatened) to do, which was block Saskia’s adoption? The way we understood it: the most likely scenario, if Ruel prevailed in his protest, was that Caroline would get custody and he’d get visitation and owe her child support payments none of us believed he’d ever pay. While she could, maybe just maybe, have us retain physical custody, the legal messiness of that was so overwhelming—who’d sign the forms, what if Ruel protested the arrangement, what if—after a number of months or years—Caroline changed her mind and wanted Saskia? It was all so thorny I could not bear to think about it.
And then, Ruel showed up in court mid-August last summer and again stated his opposition to the adoption and his intention to seek custody. By this point, the issue had been kind of “on hold,” in anticipation of his possibly doing something with this stated intention for nearly three months and the judge did not look kindly upon him appearing in court still no further in the process and gave him two weeks for the paternity test and the proper forms to be completed. Not even an exhalation for those two weeks: we waited like we didn’t know waiting existed.
The day after Labor Day, we learned that Ruel had not initiated any tests nor filed any papers and our lawyer took this news back to the judge. The judge terminated Ruel’s parental rights. There’s some legal way to say this, but I thought of my friend Kim Goggins’ catchphrase: Drag your feet; lose your seat. It was an anticlimactic end to the drama we’d been enduring, blessedly so.
The legal machinations weren’t quite over: there was a waiting period, lest Ruel contest the termination (there are always, I have learned where the law is concerned, waiting periods) and after that, as autumn’s air cooled us all, there was the day Caroline could (had to) at long last sign the form surrendering her legal rights to Saskia. I say at long last, because generally women sign this form seventy-two hours (that’s three days) after giving birth, soon after her final decision’s been made and long before there is as much to know about the child, still tucked into herself in fetal position, not yet smiling or hugging or crawling as is true eight months later. Even if the decision had been made those months before, the signature was that much harder to put on the inked line. Not until December did the finalization take place. It was a pretty jolly affair, because everyone at the courthouse likes a happy ending, and in the scheme of things, beaming families and cute babies are as close to happy endings as the courthouse gets. Perhaps, given all we’d been through to get to that day, I was both thrilled and relieved and hit by the enormity—of the seven months of waiting, of the sacrifice Caroline made, of the complicated legacy Saskia came into the world with—all over again.
Needless to say, summer didn’t feel all that summery last year. Nothing quite touched my abject fear, none of the quotidian pleasures specific to the season, like the cool splash of pool or lake water or the hazy seat the moon takes on a humid night or the sweet corn. I conscientiously tried to take in all that glory, those moments and sensations I love and cherish, the delight Remy took in getting comfortable in the water or that Saskia took in crawling, that Ezekiel garnered at arts camp or Lucien at soccer camp.
Yesterday, Remy, Saskia and I went blueberry picking* with dear friends and then took our sweaty selves swimming. We picked perfect blueberries off what amounts to a grove of bushes on a friend’s property, a magnificent and still spot where the kids—one day shy of eighteen months, four, six, and seven—could wander freely and pop berries off the bushes with ease. Even Saskia was independent, snacking on berries, chattering to each of us, following the four year-old about. August has begun, and with it, Remy and my determination to do as much pool hopping as possible. So, we all headed to another friend’s house for a swim. There was that perfect contrast between cool water and overheated bodies, the tingling sensation after getting cooled off, and the reheating over the course of the afternoon. After supper, I ended up taking Remy and Saskia to another friend’s house for a second swim, shared with dusk and mosquitoes. There, the water was a bit warmer, almost balmy. On the walk home, we looked up to see the full moon in the hazy sky, the color of ripe peach flesh. The bounty of summer: all those perfect blueberries, the way friends just share what’s easy to share, and in the sky that gem of a moon, and on the happy children—securely with me—smiles and bug bites and tan lines and tiredness, it caught up with me and I was full from it in the most luscious way, grateful beyond imagination.
*If you don't have a friend with a blueberry grove, you can still go picking; check CISA's list of places to pick your own.