The woman wore a thick quilted jacket covering the growing girth of her abdomen. She stood rigid in the little clutch of people at the front of the courtroom, her hand outstretched, her voice rising, rough, harsh. You took my babies, you need to give me my babies back. The subject of her wrath remained silent: slender shoulders, lifted chin, thin arms holding a large file. A figure strode between them with raised hand. We’re starting, now, sit down, she said, to the quivering, angry mother.
We all sat, but stood again as the judge came out, black-robed, solemn. I took my place beside my client’s mother. On my left, my fifteen-year-old client slumped and swiveled her chair. She raised her eyes to meet mine and moved her head side to side just enough for me to see. I nodded. One place down, the lawyer for my client’s baby raised an eyebrow. On a back bench, my client’s sisters, aged ten and eight, murmured to the aunt who cares for them. At the far right, the case worker gently set her binder on the table. It sat in seeming innocence: a stark, unfeeling journal of one year in the life of a south Kansas City family.
Silence fell and for a brief moment, we could have been any group of people, drawn together for any pleasant purpose. Then the case worker took the stand and before the echo of her oath died, the woman on my right screeched out, You’re making me lose my home, It’s your fault! You did this to me! The judge’s sharp rebuke cut through the stunned silence.
An hour later, as I trudged the length of the sidewalk to my car, I found myself grateful for some small successes. I established that my client has made progress in learning to care for her little boy. I endorsed the recommendation of keeping my client and her son in the relative placement where they’ve been successful, and moving towards guardianship — a recommendation adopted by the court. While my client’s mother will most certainly lose her rights to the younger children, all four of the children impacted by one woman’s inability to care for them will be safe with relatives. As for the baby not yet born, we can only pray.
It’s New Year’s Day minus twenty-three, Gratitude Day Nine, and I am grateful this day for every opportunity that I have been given to keep my lights on, and food in my refrigerator, and heat coursing through my registers. Though my world is simple, it is simply enough. And it is more than many have; and so for my life, I am thankful.